Discussion: Multilateral institutions and their effect on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Jun 21 2014

PDN-500Global governance has long been the domain of States – whether at the United Nations or other lesser-known multilateral bodies. These organs are typically formed by States, run by States and controlled by States.

In recent years, however, civil society has gained increasing recognition as a legitimate actor in the global government process. And this is as it should be, since civil society is one of the primary means for ordinary citizens to organize and peacefully raise concerns with governments and effect change.

But just how inclusive are multilateral organizations when it comes to giving civil society a seat at the table? How do multilaterals’ actions and inactions – whether financial, structural, or programmatic – affect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association?

This will be the subject of Maina Kiai’s next report to the UN General Assembly in October 2014.

Kiai’s report will explore whether States create spaces to interact with civil society at the multilateral level and whether in implementing programs through multilateral institutions they enable or hinder civil society’s voice and involvement. While not all negative practices, strictly speaking, violate the rights to freedom of association and of assembly, identifying restrictive practices and policies remains important, as these restrictions may ultimately lead to violations (or create environments where such violations are likely to occur).

The Special Rapporteur recognizes that interactions between civil society and States at the multilateral level have an effect on various other rights, including the right to participation in public affairs, freedom of expression and the rights of various categories of civic actors such as indigenous peoples, women etc. The report will necessarily touch on these rights.

What’s your opinion on multilaterals and their impact on assembly and association rights?

The Special Rapporteur will be convening a consultation in Istanbul, Turkey, in late June to discuss the issue with experts. But we’d also like to hear your views.

States are clearly obligated to uphold the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association at the national level, but do similar obligations exist at the international level? If so, what shape do they take? For example, is the right to meaningful participation inherent in the right to freedom of association – or does the right to freedom of association stop at the ability to form an association?

Aside from simply giving civil society a seat at the table, there are also programmatic concerns. Take, for example, a hypothetical development project initiated by a multilateral institution in partnership with a national government. If the project is opposed by domestic activists or civil society groups, what sort of voice should they have at the multilateral level? Should civil society be involved in consultations from the start?

And what if these groups stage peaceful public assemblies against the project that are brutally suppressed by the local government? Does the multilateral have a responsibility to react?

There may also be instances where UN agencies are restricted from directly working with domestic civil society groups or where a multilateral’s policies do not allow for funding of peaceful assemblies. And of course, we are also interested in how States and multilaterals facilitate assemblies organized around large multilateral events such as world conferences and meetings of the G8.

How to submit information for the report

For more details on the report, please see our concept note. For specific questions that the Special Rapporteur is looking to answer, please see our questionnaire, with separate questions for civil society groups, multilateral institutions, and government members of multilaterals. We would love to have your input.

If you are comfortable making a public comment, you may do so using the form below (log-in is via Facebook, Yahoo or Hotmail). If you prefer to make a non-public comment, or to submit answers to the questionnaire, you can e-mail us at info@freeassembly.net.

Please be sure to provide as much detail as possible and to specify which multilateral institutions and countries you are referring to.

(Note that for this report, the Special Rapporteur will examine only those multilaterals open to membership by all States, such as the UN and its various agencies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the Financial Action Task Force and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Regional multilaterals, such as the African Development Bank, ASEAN and the European Union, could be the subject of a later report)




View the quotes in your language: