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Civil society under threat, Fundamental Rights Agency finds

In many parts of the EU, civil society is under threat, finds a new report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). Given the vital role civil society plays in upholding democratic processes and in promoting human rights, decision makers need to ensure the important work of civil society is not undermined through policy and legal changes and funding cuts.

The ‘Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU’ report explores how these challenges vary across the EU. It points to:

  • Threats, physical and verbal attacks against activists, as well as smear campaigns;
  • Legal changes that negatively affect civil society, such as freedom of assembly restrictions, often a by-product of counter-terrorism laws;
  • Shrinking budgets and increased difficulties in getting funding;
  • Lack of appropriate involvement of civil society in law- and policy-making.

Member States should abide by the laws, including international standards that recommend civil society participation in policy cycles. Due attention must also be paid to ensure that new or redrafted laws and policies do not undermine the work of civil society. Civil society funding also needs to be protected. In addition, channels of dialogue between civil society and the EU need to be strengthened to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed. This includes finding ways to collect comparable and reliable data on the challenges civil society face, such as threats, intimidation and attacks.

This report contains promising practices that are being used to address these challenges.

The information contained in this report was collected through secondary research and FRA’s own data gathering and qualitative research. Over 40 experts from civil society, foundations and funders, National Human Rights Institutes and Equality Bodies, international organisations and public administrations were consulted either through a two-day expert meeting or through (face to face or telephone) interviews.

Via European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights website.

Equality Bodies

Equality bodies are also negatively affected by increasingly limiting legal and practical restrictions highlighted in the FRA report. Despite the growing need for equality champions, these bodies are facing mounting challenges at national level due to austerity measures and unfavorable political climate in many Member States, risking that they can no longer offer independent opinions on the state of equality in their countries.

To this day no specific standards exist to ensure that equality bodies have the adequate powers and resources to effectively protect all victims of discrimination, as current EU legislation does not guarantee their complete independence, effectiveness, sufficient powers or adequate resources. It is with the appreciation of this concern that Equinet and national equality bodies have been calling for European standards on the independence, effectiveness, functions and powers of equality bodies. Consequently, in 2016 Equinet published a Working Paper on Developing Standards for Equality Bodies seeking to establish positions that equality bodies could promote, negotiate and advance vis-à-vis European and national administrations in the establishment of standards for equality bodies at European level and their implementation at national level.

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