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Protecting Civil Society in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities for the Rule of Law

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Civil society is increasingly marginalised by governments around the world. This is profoundly troubling as civil society plays a critical role in promoting the rule of law and all human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and in holding governments to account. The global civil society alliance CIVICUS recently reported that serious violations of one or more of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association took place in 109 countries in 2015. Restrictions on civil society also raise issues under core rule of law principles, including legal certainty, the prohibition of arbitrariness, non-discrimination, equality before the law, access to justice and human rights protection. Moreover, instances where governments fail to implement laws and court judgments protecting civil society also undermine the rule of law.

This event examined the problems and how they might be addressed. It looked at the restrictions faced by civil society organisations in Europe, and it provided an opportunity to hear leading experts consider opportunities for challenging barriers to an effective civil society and practical ways to create supportive frameworks. It also examined responses from the Council of Europe and European Union at a regional level; access to justice for civil society through the lens of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights; and examples of successful reforms in European countries at a domestic level.


  • Adrian Di Giovanni (Senior Program Specialist, Law & Development at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and International Visiting Fellow, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law)


  • Richard Clayton QC (UK member, Venice Commission; Deputy High Court Judge; and 4-5 Gray's Inn Square)
  • Katerina Hadzi-Miceva Evans (Executive Director, The European Center for Not-for-Profit Law)
  • Natacha Kazatchkine (Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society European Policy Institute)
  • Philip Leach (Professor of Human Rights Law, School of Law, Middlesex University London; and Director of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC))
  • Kersty McCourt (Senior Advocacy Advisor, Open Society Justice Initiative)

Event convened by: Lucy Moxham (Associate Senior Research Fellow, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law)

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