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EuropeCivil Society challenges for Democracy, Rule of Law, and Peace

Civil Society challenges for Democracy, Rule of Law, and Peace

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Kyriakos Hatzigiannis
Kyriakos Hatzigiannis
Dr. Kyriakos Hatzigiannis is Special Representative for the participation of Civil Society in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). He also served as Chairman of the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs of the OSCE. Furthermore, Mr. Hadjiyiannis Is Vice-Chair of the ad hoc Committee on Migration of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

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Civil Society (CS) is the direct way in which citizens express themselves and participate in consultation before making a decision in a state. It is an additional structure in the whole organizational chart of the rule of law with a complementary role to that of the executive and the legislature. The manner, immediacy and degree of participation of the CS determine firstly the degree of democracy and secondly the level of effectiveness of the rule of law in each country separately. The institutionalized participation of the CS in the structures of the state and international organizations through consultation/dialogue is essential.

More specifically, states that have good practices in relation to CS participation operate more smoothly with enhanced democratic processes and vice versa, while states with lower CS participation lag behind, resulting in this significant absence of citizens from dialogue affecting their functioning.

The CS through its complementary role can also bring other powers and state structures face to face with the real problems that are a priority for society and man. A simple successful example is highlighting the global problem of climate change. The control of other state powers is a stabilizing factor of the rule of law. At the same time, the CS through its role can restore social justice and contribute to the self-regulation of the control of powers in a state. In particular, the participation of the CS can have various purposes such as for example as a defender of Human Rights and Freedoms within the rule of law by criticizing all the powers within it.

Particularly and proportionately important is the role of the CS in international organizations which should be role models through their own operations. I observe that the UN Secretariat, the Council of Europe and the EU, even with different structures, have the inclusion of the CS in an ongoing dialogue. In the case of the OSCE, there is a lot of work to be done, since, at the governmental level, there is still no compromise on how the CS can participate in its work. The OSCE General Assembly has appointed a special representative for the CS, who will prepare a report on the good practices of the CS in the Member States and a mechanism for participating in the work of the assembly.

There is no fixed and universal way of utilizing the CS by the states, which applies differently to the participation of the CS in their wider organization. Others have institutionalized the inclusion of the CS in the wider state structure, while others have not. Unfortunately, in some states, even if they refer to the CS, in their day-to-day operation the CS does not receive the appropriate respect.

The organization of the CS varies from state to state. Some examples of expressive Institutions for CS are the ombudsman, the Commissioner for Legislation / Human Rights, etc. Institutions that have a different degree of independence from other state powers, while also having a different role. In relation to the above, the expression and organization of the CS through NGOs varies from country to country where we observe models of enhanced cooperation between NGOs, while elsewhere NGOs operate completely uncoordinated between themselves.

In addition, digitization as a technological development makes the participation of the CS much easier and financially painless. Online meetings facilitate dialogue, discussion and consultation, especially for all those Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that have limited financial resources and human resources. In addition to the fact that teleconferences enrich the knowledge, relationships and collaborations of CS.

Unfortunately, there are many states that even impose prosecutions on the CS under the pretext of national security, crime, the imposition of a state of emergency, but also the instrumentation of different national laws in order to prosecute CS defenders. Regarding the latter, there is a particularly large number of people from NGOs who are prosecuted after tax audits or other minor offences in order to be blackmailed and not to play their role.

The orderly and legal activity of NGOs is a necessity so that their activity does not run counter to the rule of law. The main reason why a number of NGOs are treated with great caution by the states is the illegality of their activities. A number of NGOs involved in illegal economic and political activities give rise to states and international organizations refusing to integrate them into their decision-making processes. Once their legitimacy has been verified, then the state should fully respect the operation of NGOs as a separate institutional cell of democracy.

Some states keep a register of NGOs based on which an NGO is registered. A number of states also require the inclusion of a code of conduct and ethics in the statutes of NGOs. However, it should be emphasized that the criteria applied by the states need a comparative study, in order to determine whether and to what extent irrational and unnecessary obstacles are imposed in the registration of an NGO or not.

In conclusion, the participation of the CS necessarily contributes to democracy and the rule of law and, consequently, to peace. The aspect of CS participation should be highlighted as a priority for both states and international organizations. The development of good practices for the integration of CS into the processes of states and international organizations is essential. After all, the CS has significant reserves of “calm” power that can positively influence the agenda and rules of national and international policies.

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