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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title II - Promoting a Culture of Openness

Sec. 6. Encouraging a Vibrant Civil Society

Parliament has a duty to encourage the development and maintenance of an active, engaged, vibrant civil society, and to ensure that civil society organizations are able to operate freely and without restriction.

As described in provision 2, parliaments have a duty to develop a legal framework that enables citizen participation in its work, while provision 3 states that parliaments shall use their powers of oversight to ensure that governments safeguard the right of citizens to government information and active engagement in governance. Critical to embracing these principles is the duty of parliament to encourage a vibrant civil society. A healthy civil society is widely recognized as one of the most important factors in the strength and development of democratic institutions and the ability for citizens to voice their interests. Many parliaments have contributed to this goal by passing legislation that encourages private philanthropy, provides favored tax status for civil society organizations or provides public grants to support a vibrant civil society. In other contexts, legislatures also play a vital role in overseeing government actions where there have been allegations of repression by the government over the NGO sector.

According to the European Union’s founding treaty, its institutions “…shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society.”[1] COPA specifies that parliaments should ensure that interactions with civil society are based on “dialogue and cooperation.”[2] The more than 55 countries participating in OGP also have recognized civil society participation as a cornerstone of their efforts to become more open, calling upon civil society to serve as a co-chair of the initiative alongside two leading governments. Implicit in these initiatives is the importance of a robust civil society that helps inform the work of parliament, thereby enhancing its’ representative capacity and legitimacy.

A report by the World Movement for Democracy Secretariat details a number of principles regarding the importance and rights of civil society organizations, noting that states have an “obligation to protect the rights of [civil society organizations].” These include the right to form and participate in a civic organization, the right to operate without state interference, the right to seek and use resources, the right to communicate with domestic and international partners, and rights of free expression and peaceful assembly. These are rights recognized and protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights among other international declarations and treaties.[3]

Many parliaments around the world have not only encouraged the development of civil society apart from their own work, but have actively partnered with PMOs and other civil society actors to improve their functioning. In Pakistan, for instance, the National Assembly has worked with the organization PILDAT to evaluate the functioning of the body and its committees.[4] In the United Kingdom, Parliament has authorized the Hansard Society to conduct the annual Audit of Political Engagement.[5] The Assembly of Kosovo held a “CSO Fair” featuring more than 30 civic groups to help strengthen communication and information sharing between civic groups, the Assembly, and Assembly staff on issues affecting citizens.

[1] European Union, Treaty on the European Union, Article 11.

[2] COPA, The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §

[3] World Movement for Democracy, Defending Civil Society, Second Edition, June 2012, pp. 34-52. Accessed 6/20/2012.

[4] See Accessed 6/5/2012.

[5] See Accessed 6/12/2012.