Human Rights in a Shrinking Civic Space

About the seminar

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In many countries civil society faces severe pressure. This is not limited to authoritarian regimes, but occurs also in hybrid and even established democracies. Collective citizens' efforts, especially when they have political salience, seem to be regarded with increasing suspicion and even to be actively countered in many states. NGOs are confronted with restrictions on foreign funding. Independent media also face pressure. Public protests and demonstrations are increasingly caught in a net woven of strands of disproportionate police reactions and formal bureaucratic rules.

Anti-NGO laws, arbitrary inspections and even harassment and criminalization all strike at the roots of civic space. What are the possible causes of this shrinking or closing civic space, how does the closing manifest itself, and what are the linkages to human rights? And how cold civil society react and bounce back?

This talk will focus on anti-NGO measures and the possibilities to use human rights as a lens to frame and address this phenomenon.

About the presenter

Antoine Buyse is full professor of human rights in a multidisciplinary perspective and director of the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) at Utrecht University. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights. In addition, he is a member of the NGO Law Expert Council of the Council of Europe and executive committee member of the Association of Human Rights Institutes (AHRI). His current research focuses on the interlinkages between human rights and the global phenomenon of shrinking civic space.

Both a historian and legal scholar by training, he wrote his PhD at Leiden University on post-conflict housing restitution for refugees and displaced people, with a case study on Bosnia and Herzegovina. His special areas of expertise are the European Convention on Human Rights, human rights in post-conflict situations, transitional justice, and freedom of expression. In the past years, he has worked on research investigating the linkages between the freedom of expression and violent conflict escalation. Currently, he is working on a project concerning reverse transitions from a human rights perspective, focusing on shrinking civic space, as evidenced by restrictions on civil society organisations, the media, and public protest. He has received the Fruin Prize, the Max van der Stoel Prize, the Erasmus Study Prize and the Wiarda Prize for his academic work.

Antoine teaches on human rights in the human rights track of Utrecht University's LLM in Public International Law as well as in the MA in Conflict Studies and Human Rights. Internationally, he teaches in the European MA in Human Rights and Democratisation in Venice. Together with Utrecht colleagues he has developed the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) 'Human Rights for Open Societies : An Introduction into the European Convention on Human Rights), available here on the Coursera platform.