CIVICUS welcomes the adoption by consensus of a resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs by the UN Human Rights Council.
The resolution, presented by a core group led by Czech Republic and comprising Botswana, Indonesia, Netherlands and Peru, puts an important focus on elections and on the impact of COVID-19 on participation. It underscores the importance of protecting civil society participation at every level as part of effective response to the pandemic, in post-pandemic recovery and as a vital component of democratic electoral processes.
At a time when pandemic response has been used both intentionally and unintentionally to restrict civic freedoms, especially during elections, we are glad to see these issues addressed.
Equal participation in transparent, periodic, free and fair elections elections empowers people to be involved in decisions which affect their life. The context of COVID-19 raised numerous challenges to this: from states seeking variously to hurry votes to take place at times that suited them, regardless of voter safety; or to delay them to their advantage. This was particularly prevalent in States with a narrowed, repressed or closed civic space, and often in line with the establishment of restrictive emergency laws which similarly curtailed freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
Equal participation also requires a free press; the ability including to seek, receive and impart information; the ability to dissent without fear of harassment and reprisals, and on civil society being able to organise and assemble. We call on States to ensure that these conditions are met, including by ending internet shutdowns which significantly curtails such equal participation. Our collective strength to recover from the pandemic risks being undermined by eroding democratic safeguards, attacking human rights defenders, and stifling people’s ability to participate in public life.
Equal participation also means equity in who is allowed to participate. Negotiations on this resolution raised debates on whether youth, especially girls, are able to participate in decisions that affect them outside of formal electoral processes, and we reiterate that States must ensure the right of children to participate in public affairs.