The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted on 10 December, 1948 as the first global attempt to define the inalienable rights of human beings in the grim aftermath of World War II.
Today, on the 68th anniversary of its adoption in Paris, the UDHR has paved the way for advancements such as the elaboration of women’s rights, children’s rights, and the right not to be tortured. It holds the distinction of being the world’s most-translated document and is available in 464 different languages.
But over the past few years, Oak and other human rights organisations have identified a steady, disturbing erosion in some of those rights set out in the UDHR. Worldwide, new legislation, regulatory controls and stigmatisation increasingly cripple and criminalise the participation of non-governmental organisations in civic life.
Since January 2012, more than 100 laws have been proposed or enacted by governments across the globe, aimed at restricting the registration, operating and funding of civic society organisations. A report from Ariadne describes how funders face challenges in maintaining their support for public benefit work in many countries. Funders grapple with how to continue supporting organisations that are denied permission to receive specific grants or to receive foreign funds in general.
A common tactic used by governments to stifle civic organisations, experts say, has been to block foreign funding vital to their survival, at times manipulating anti-terrorism laws to do so.
In response, Oak is working with peers and partners to reverse that trend. Research seeking to diagnose the reasons behind the shrinking of civic space and design pathways to push back has been undertaken by the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Space and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Meanwhile, with diverse civil society actors, Oak has participated in the drafting of a Civic Charter that reasserts the human right to civic participation.
“People’s individual and collective participation brings life and gives meaning to democracy. It is vital in protecting human rights, achieving development and building just, tolerant and peaceful societies,” states the Charter, launched in November at a meeting of the International Civil Society Centre in Berlin. “It ensures that those who hold public offices, or other positions of power, are held accountable for their actions and are working for the common good.”
The Charter, which people and organisations can sign on to and use as a basis for joint action, articulates a common set of civic and political rights. A reference point for people claiming their rights, it serves as a tool for awareness-raising, advocacy and campaigning and provides a vehicle to promote solidarity among local, national, regional and global struggles to defend civic space. Since its launch, more than 540 individuals and 143 organisations from 60 countries have become signatories.
Tim Parritt, International Human Rights Programme Officer for Oak, describes the Charter as “a rallying cry, a restatement of the fundamental principles which are scattered all through international law. “They’re saying that if you’re an independent civic activist you’re a threat to the government and to the nation,” Parritt said. “And we’re saying, no, we are the nation. Independent civic activism is the heart of free, open societies.”