The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action states, “Democracy is based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.”
The United States believes that an essential way to support democracies is to support civil society. I want to focus my remarks today on emerging threats to civil society around the world and the need for all of us to address them.
Civil society is crucial to the protection and promotion of democracy and human rights around the globe. It gives voice to those segments of the population that might otherwise be marginalized, ignored, or violated.
And it illustrates the need for pluralism – that no single leader, government entity, or state can fully understand and resolve all of the problems that a country faces, particularly in this complex world.
This is certainly true for the United States. As Secretary Clinton stated in Krakow in 2010, “We were a people before we were a nation. And civil society not only helped create our nation, it helped sustain and power our nation into the future. It has also played an essential role in identifying and eradicating the injustices that have, throughout our history, separated our nation from the principles on which it was founded.”
Civil society’s “essential role,” however, is under threat around the world. We see governments trying to silence the voices of civil society by making it harder for these groups to register and operate within their country. Others make it more difficult for these groups to get funding. Worse still, some governments use intimidation, persecution, and even violence to try to bully these groups into submission.
We call upon all governments to protect their civil society organizations from attacks, and to uphold their commitments to promote and protect the human rights of their citizens, including the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to life, liberty and security of person, freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and protection against torture and arbitrary arrest or detention.
The United States joined this body in order to address urgent and pivotal human rights situations, including continued attacks on civil society. We urge the Human Rights Council to uphold the principles enshrined in the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association Resolution that this body passed in 2010 and the general principles governing this Council by responding to these attacks and supporting our civil society colleagues.