The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Global Forum 2011 i Stockholm 23 augusti 2011
Gunilla Carlsson, Biståndsminister
Avslutningsanförande av Gunilla Carlsson vid the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Global Forum 2011 (på engelska)
Det talade ordet gäller
Ladies and gentlemen,
To begin, I would like to express my gratitude to ICNL (The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law) for organising this event in Sweden and for inviting me to be here with you. Thank you.
The Global Forum is a unique platform where leading thinkers, practitioners and policy makers from different sectors of society can discuss the most pressing legal issues facing civil society. Today, from more than 80 countries, 200 representatives from civil society, governments, parliaments, the judiciary, the business sector and international institutions are meeting here to develop new tools and concrete solutions to the challenges facing civil society. The work you do is not only important - it is crucial. And I am honoured to be among you.
I would like to address four issues today: Human rights, the importance of civil society, the shrinking space for civil society and finally, the responsibility of governments and our foreign and development policies.
First. Human rights. In recent decades, we have seen a positive global trend of increased respect for human rights and dozens of states replacing dictatorship with democratically elected governments. However, we have also seen a number of worrying backlashes, such as an increase in attacks on democracy and human rights defenders and journalists, and growing restrictions on press freedom. Also, discrimination and violence against women, girls and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people are still commonplace in many parts of the world and, unfortunately, increasing. I am especially concerned about the oppressive attacks against those who fight for the right to be free from gender or sexuality-based discrimination.
Each violation of a person's rights is a violation of humanity. In this context, I must of course mention Syria. I am appalled at the brutal repression of the population and civil society by Syrian authorities and security forces. Political prisoners and democracy and human rights defenders must be released without delay.
For this reason, and for many others, the fight for human rights must continue. And we must never allow ourselves to tire or despair. Because freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association are key to democratisation. Consequently, they are of the highest priority in Swedish foreign policy and international development cooperation.
Second. A vibrant, pluralistic and democratic civil society is pivotal to poverty reduction, democratic development and increased respect for human rights. Civil society organisations can act as proponents of innovative ideas, hold those in power accountable for their policies and actions, organise services that benefit citizens and be a counterweight to and force for democratisation vis-ā-vis the state.
We know that increased accountability generally means that states become better at delivering what citizens expect. And to be relevant and sustainable in the long run, democracies must deliver a functioning public administration, infrastructure and basic social services. They must engage citizens, create an enabling environment for free and independent media and civil society, ensure that the democratic political system works, and implement democratic decisions.
Third. Civil society organisations in many countries now find it increasingly difficult to operate freely. This is a highly disturbing development. Since 2006, measures restricting the rights of civil society have been introduced in more than 50 countries, for example in Belarus, Burma, Syria, Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In other countries, such as Cambodia, draft laws are being prepared that, if adopted, would threaten to restrict civil society. This would be a worrying development.
In my travels around the world, I have met many people who stand up and fight for democratic values and human rights, fully aware of the risk of being exposed to controls, surveillance, persecution and harassment, death threats, physical assaults, torture, arbitrary detention and even murder. Several of you, and many more who can't be here, have had such experiences. Your strength and courage is an example and an inspiration to us all.
Also, I am dismayed to hear how civil society activities are constrained by legal or administrative barriers, such as high minimum thresholds for members or assets, onerous registration procedures, arbitrary termination criteria, prohibitions on areas of activity, invasive supervision and barriers to cross-border funding and communication. These kinds of measures may not be violent or threatening, but they are nonetheless very effective.
In light of this, Sweden attaches great importance to the work of the Special Rapporteurs and other special procedures of the Human Rights Council. Sweden was actively involved in the creation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Assembly and Association in 2010, and it has filled a major gap in human rights protection.
In addition to the different measures and restrictions I mentioned earlier, civil society organisations also face many internal difficulties, such as long-term sustainability, capacity weaknesses and lack of financial sustainability, internal democracy and coordination.
Civil society faces many challenges, but one thing is absolutely clear: people and organisations working for democratisation and human rights must be able to carry out their activities freely and without intimidation from the authorities or other actors. Here, we cannot and must not allow any exceptions.
Fourth and finally. As governments, we must create an enabling environment for civil society and for free and independent media in our own countries. The Swedish Government, for example, has written a communication to parliament on a whole-of-government approach to supporting and cooperating with civil society actors. Coherent domestic, foreign and development policies are important. We must also contribute to enabling environments in other countries both through political dialogue and development cooperation. This is a responsibility we have to ourselves, to our citizens and to all people suffering from poverty, strife and oppression.
To be effective and make a difference, our development cooperation and foreign policies must be coherent nationally, within the EU and multilaterally. The work carried out in the Community of Democracies Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society is a good example. This effort has contributed to very real and concrete results in several countries over the last two years. I want to thank Canada for leading this working group, and in particular the international CSOs contributing constructively to this effort, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy, CIVICUS and Article 19.
I believe that for development cooperation to be effective, we must put freedom and human rights first and focus on the individual as a key actor for change. This entails supporting embattled civil society organisations' access to legal advice, appeals, monitoring of court cases, hospital charges, travel expenses for visits of imprisoned activists and compensation for destroyed or confiscated property, such as mobile phones and computers.
It can also mean capacity building for CSOs, working for free and independent media, providing equal access to the legal system, and strengthening women's rights and political participation with the purpose of creating an enabling environment for civil society. To illustrate how important this kind of work is to us, I wish to mention that more than one third of Swedish bilateral development cooperation, or 5.6 billion Swedish kronor, goes to and through civil society. Of that amount, more than 2 billion kronor per year goes to democracy support and human rights assistance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
During the Global Forum, you have participated in workshops on themes of great importance, including Backlash against Civil Society, Democratic Transitions, Survival Techniques for CSOs, Self-Regulation Initiatives and Promoting Constructive Engagement with the Diplomatic Community and International Organisations. I would very much like to listen to your discussions, thoughts and findings from these workshop.
Democracy is about change. Human rights are about freedom. And the role of civil society in this is crucial. I will continue to do my utmost to make it possible for civil society organisations and other pro-democracy actors to conduct their activities openly and freely.
Pressekreterare hos Gunilla Carlsson
cell 070-283 95 97
e-post till Evin Khaffaf