The round table met at the New York Hilton Hotel Midtown, as conferees gathered for meetings at the United Nations.
"Unfortunately, though, what we're also seeing is a growing number of countries that are passing laws designed specifically to stifle civil society," Obama said. "They're forcing groups to register with governments, eroding human rights protections, restricting NGOs from accessing foreign funding, cracking down on communications technologies that connect civil society groups around the globe. In more extreme cases, activists and journalists have been arrested on false charges, and some have been killed. We're also seeing new and fragile democracies cracking down on civil society, which I believe sets them back and sends a dangerous signal to other countries."
Obama said in recent years, "the international community has stepped up our support. Two years ago, some of you recall, we came together to launch the Open Government Partnership to promote transparent, effective and accountable institutions in partnership with civil society. Sixty countries and a broad coalition of civil society and private sector partners have joined. The Community of Democracies is working to take aim at restrictive laws. The Human Rights Council established the first Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Peaceful Assembly and Association. And several governments and foundations, including many in this room, contribute to a 'Lifeline' fund for emergency aid to civil society groups under threat."
Earlier, a coalition led by the United States pledged Monday at the United Nations to "protect civil society in the face of ongoing assault around the world."
The pledge followed large-scale terror attacks and loss of life in Kenya and Nigeria during the past few days.
The coalition of nations, in a statement issued by the White House, pointed to the Community of Democracies, the Open Government Partnership and the Lifeline Fund, which met Monday "with representatives of civil society, the philanthropic community, the private sector, and the United Nations on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Our purpose was to reinforce the central role of civil society in working with governments to address common challenges and to coordinate action to promote and protect civil society in the face of ongoing assault around the world."
The statement didn't give details about how its countries would protect society from assault but said the coalition had "deep concern that many governments are restricting civil society and the rights of freedom of association and expression, both online and offline."
"To combat this alarming trend, our governments committed to work together to respond to growing restrictions on civil society that undermine its ability to perform its crucial role," the statement said. "We will ensure effective coordination of the multiple efforts already under way toward this end, including through the U.N. system, the Community of Democracies, the Open Government Partnership and Lifeline, and commit to strengthen our support for these existing mechanisms."
Besides the United States and Britain, the coalition included the governments of Australia, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Ireland, Japan, Libya, Lithuania, Mexico, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and Tunisia.