Why Attacks on Civic Space Matter in Strasbourg: The European Convention on Human Rights, Civil Society and Civic Space

  • Antoine Buyse Utrecht University
Keywords: civic space, civil society, European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression


This article explores the role of the European Convention on Human Rights in addressing the issue of attacks on civic space, but also the potential effects of shrinking civic space on Strasbourg’s work. First, an overview of the notions of civil society and civic space is given, linking these concepts to democracy and human rights. Subsequently, the formal and informal roles for civil society in the judicial decision-making are discussed. Finally, the substantive protection offered to civil society and civic space under the ECHR and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights is analysed. This article argues that the differentiations in theory on the varying contributions of civil society to democracy and human rights are to a large extent reflected in Strasbourg jurisprudence. Even more importantly, the ECHR system and civil society benefit from each other. This is why the current attacks on civic space are not just a problem for civil society itself, but also for the work of the European Court: it is submitted that a shrinking of civic space can also negatively affect the Strasbourg system, as the two are intertwined to a considerable extent.

Received: 06 July 2019
Accepted: 10 October 2019
Published online: 20 December 2019


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How to Cite
Buyse, Antoine. 2019. “Why Attacks on Civic Space Matter in Strasbourg: The European Convention on Human Rights, Civil Society and Civic Space”. Deusto Journal of Human Rights, no. 4 (December), 13-37. https://doi.org/10.18543/djhr-4-2019pp13-37.