As freedom of association and expression are sine qua non conditions for the realisation of the rule of law and the protection of fundamental freedoms, the protection of civic space must be ensured in the face of increasing attacks, particularly from private actors.
Associations, trade unions, indigenous representatives, whistleblowers and journalists can act as “rights defenders”, whose existence and actions are not only consistent with the realisation of the rule of law and other fundamental freedoms, but also with the protection of the environment. From the local to the international level, the activities of these civil society actors provide citizens with information and allow them to engage in the public debate.
However, all of these groups, whether journalists or associations, have their activities hindered and their very existence sometimes challenged by multinationals and public authorities. Every year, hundreds of rights defenders, particularly those working to protect the environment, are victims of murder and violence. This shrinking of the civic space is happening around the world, as well as in Europe. France is no exception.
While France has adopted a general statute to protect whistleblowers, the protection regime remains very incomplete. Furthermore, SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) which aim to stifle the exercise of freedom of expression through judicial intimidation, are frequently used by companies or institutions against rights defenders when they denounce abuses. The aim of these disproportionate and unbalanced procedures is not judicial victory, but censorship. Despite numerous warnings from civil society, this problem has still not been addressed by the legislature.
Another illustration of the mistrust faced by associations is the trend in legislation and case law to limit their ability to take legal action, for example when they report environmental damage by companies or integrity breaches involving the private or public sector.
It is essential to implement a response that is equal to the challenges posed by the increasing gagging and legal insecurity of rights defenders, and thus protect civic space from attacks by private actors.
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Proposal 11 — Broadening the status and protection of whistleblowers
Proposal 12 — Fighting SLAPPs by amending procedural rules and strengthening sanctions against judicial practices that impede the exercise of freedom of expression
Proposal 13 — Amend the articles of the Code of Criminal Procedure governing the standing of associations to facilitate litigation as a whole