1. The Human Rights Council, in its resolution 32/31, emphasized the essential role of civil society in subregional, regional and international organizations. In that regard, the Council reaffirmed the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access to and communication with subregional, regional and international bodies, and their representatives and mechanisms. The Council further asserted that civil society facilitated the achievement of the purposes and principles of the United Nations and that undue restriction of civil society space therefore had a negative impact upon their achievement. In that respect, the Council requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report compiling information on the procedures and practices in respect of civil society involvement with regional and international organizations, and the contribution of civil society to their work and challenges and best practices.

2. According space to civil society is not optional. Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the community, national, regional and international levels, to exercise the freedoms of opinion and expression, of peaceful assembly and association, and to have access to information and participate in public affairs. International law also protects the lives, liberty, physical integrity and privacy of civil society actors. Article 5 of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders) recognizes the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels, to communicate with civil society and intergovernmental organizations.

3. Human rights impose obligations on States to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of every individual to freedom of opinion and expression, access to information, peaceful assembly and association and the right to participate in public affairs and to protect individuals from interference, including by non-State actors. Those rights apply to domestic and other levels of decision-making, including in the intergovernmental sphere. 1 United Nations entities have to respect the norms and freedoms they helped to enshrine in human rights instruments, including the rights and freedoms that are indispensable for civil society to develop and operate. More and more decisions that affect the lives of ordinary people — sometimes profoundly — are taken at the regional and international levels, including in United Nations forums. In practice, having unhindered rights to form or join groups, have access to information, express one’s views and participate in decision-making is indispensable for effective civil society engagement at all levels. Limiting meaningful and effective participation of civil society essentially silences the voices of the people whom the organizations are meant to serve.

4. The Human Rights Council, in its resolution 32/31, recognized the crucial importance of unhindered access to international and regional processes and of transparency and accountability at all levels, which are indispensable for building peaceful, prosperous and democratic societies. In a statement to the Council, the Secretary-General asserted that the Council’s growing engagement with civil society strengthened much of its work and was especially vital at a time when civil society space was shrinking in so many places.2 He also noted the vital role of civil society on the Sustainable Development Goals,3 Goal 16 of which called for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all and building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (target 16.6), and for ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels (target 16.7).

5. The present report is based on 82 written submissions received by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) following its requests for inputs sent on 31 November 2016 to Member States, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and international and regional organizations.