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[HRC53 Side Event] Reclaiming Civic Space in Asia

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Reclaiming Civic Space in Asia

HRC53 Side Event

Organised by:

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation 

Tuesday, 27 June 2023, 14h00-15h00 CEST

Palais des Nations, Room XXV


The rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly are essential for advocating and defending fundamental rights. However, Asia is experiencing a concerning decline in civic space and increasing restrictions on these rights. Restrictive laws, judicial harassment of protesters and journalists, arbitrary disbandment of civil society organizations, and bureaucratic obstacles to association registration are prevalent. These restrictions are further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising militarism, authoritarianism, and electoral contexts.

In East and Southeast Asia, violations of fundamental freedoms are evident. Myanmar has implemented a restrictive law that imposes mandatory registration and criminal penalties on NGOs, exacerbating the junta’s brutality against protesters. Indonesia has amended its Societal Ordinance, granting the government authority to dissolve civil society organizations without court decisions. Harassment and violence against protesters in Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, as well as bureaucratic harassment, further silence opposition and dissent.

South Asia also faces a shrinking civic space, with oppressive rule by the Taliban in Afghanistan and the use of repressive laws in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The Taliban actively disregards fundamental freedoms, particularly for women and girls. In India, repressive acts target civil society organizations and human rights activists, creating a chilling effect on their work. Sri Lanka witnesses grave violations of the right to peaceful assembly, and Bangladesh persists in using the Digital Security Act against journalists and dissenters.

The decline in civic space across Asia, coupled with repressive laws suppressing freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, is alarming. Engaging with UN human rights mechanisms becomes crucial to hold Asian governments accountable to international standards. This side event aims to address these violations and restrictions.



  • Khin Ohmar, Chairperson of Progressive Voice, Myanmar
  • June Charoensiri, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Thailand
  • Cornelius Damar Hanung, East Asia and ASEAN Programme Manager (FORUM-ASIA)
  • Babloo Loitongbam, Human Rights Alert, India
  • Video statement by Clément Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Moderator: Rajavelu Karunanithi, South Asia Programme Associate (FORUM-ASIA)