Ban Ki-moon calls for defence of civil society, highlights UNDEF role

On a visit to Ireland on 24 May 2015 to accept the Tipperary International Peace Award, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Ban Ki-moon issued a resounding warning on growing restrictions against civil society groups in many countries and highlighted UNDEF's role in a call for action in defence of the space needed by civil society:  

"Ladies and Gentlemen,   No country, no matter how powerful or resourceful, can do this work alone.  The United Nations cannot do this work alone.  All actors need to join hands as never before – Governments, business, civil society.   

Yet in too many places around the world, civil society is under immense pressure.  An alarming number of Governments have enacted laws limiting the ability of non-governmental organizations to operate, receive funding from outside, or both.  Some Governments have twisted the term “civil society” to make it code for foreign conspiracies and subversion.   

Whatever the perceptions, the pressure is all too real.  We see military crackdowns on demonstrations, arbitrary arrests and harsh prison sentences for exercising basic freedoms.  Human rights defenders – especially women – face violent attacks, smear campaigns and crippling fines.  All too often, sweeping definitions of terrorism are used to criminalize otherwise legitimate activities, disproportionately targeting minorities, opposition groups or civil society organizations.  We have also seen acts of reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders who cooperate with or seek to air their concerns at the United Nations Human Rights Council.  

In accepting the Tipperary International Peace Award, I want to sound a call to protect the space needed by civil society. Confident nations are those that see civil society as an indispensable partner in working for the betterment of society.  In places where support from individual Governments may be difficult, the United Nations – including the United Nations Democracy Fund – stands ready as an objective source of funding without the baggage of politics and history.   

I know that Ireland shares this concern and does its part to support civil society at home and around the world.  

Local participation has proven crucial in building sustainable peace following the Good Friday Agreement. Former President Mary McAleese, the first person from Northern Ireland to hold that office, clearly recognized this in making “building bridges” the theme of her presidency.  

Former President Mary Robinson, currently my Special Envoy for Climate Change, devoted considerable attention during her work in the Great Lakes region of Africa to promoting the participation of civil society – especially women’s groups – in implementing a landmark peace agreement.  And of course, as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Robinson helped strengthen the role of the High Commissioner and the UN’s Office for Human Rights into the robust entity it is today.  

Ireland is also leading an effort within the Human Rights Council to protect and preserve civil society space not only in the Council, but everywhere.  One of the key figures in this effort is Ireland’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Patricia O’Brien – who also served with distinction as my Legal Counsel.  

Civil society organizations were also central in the referendum on marital rights.  Civil society must remain a key partner – in implementing the new development goals, building democracy, countering extremism and pointing the way towards a world of dignity for all."

Full text of speech here.