Obama Hosts Panel on Supporting Civil Society

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Date: 
September 26, 2013

President Obama, UN officials and nonprofit leaders lauded the value of civil society while expressing concern over restrictions on it caused by oppressive laws and regulations—such counterterrorism measures—during a High Level Event at the UN General Assembly on Sep. 23, 2013. Obama led the panel, remaking that; “human progress has always been propelled at some level by what happens in civil society -- citizens coming together to insist that a better life is possible, pushing their leaders to protect the rights and the dignities of all people.”

However, he also criticized “a growing number of countries that are passing laws designed specifically to stifle civil society... forcing groups to register with governments, eroding human rights protections, restricting NGOs from accessing foreign funding, cracking down on communications technologies...”

UN Special rapporteur for freedom of association and assembly, Maina Kiai echoed the president’s concerns. “Repressive legislation, often shared between states, is becoming a threat to civil society as [UN] Member States make laws criminalizing or restricting [the work of civil society],” said Kiai. He went on to detail laws that force NGOs to register, or put restrictions on their ability to raise funds. Going forward, he urged the UN and U.S. to place increased emphasis on “human rights and space for civil society.”

Focusing on repressive legislation, Doug Rutzen, the President and CEO of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law urged that; “we have to engage with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to make sure our counterterrorism measures don’t undermine what we’re trying to do today.” The FATF, an intergovernmental policy making body that sets anti-terrorist financing and anti-money laundering standards, has been criticized for not taking into account the ways in which it’s recommended standards can be used as justification for limiting civil society.

More on the FATF can be found here.