Defending Civil Society

Since 2013, 94 countries have proposed more than 269 legislative initiatives that impact civil society.

Of these initiatives, more than 180 have been restrictive. The trend is truly global, with no geographic region immune. Restrictions have emerged in both authoritarian and democratic states, ranging from barriers to forming organizations and intrusive oversight procedures to limits on access to resources and the exercise of rights online.

However, it’s not all bad news. In the past six years, states introduced nearly 90 initiatives that enhance civic space. ICNL works to strengthen our partners – civil society organizations, government reformers, donors, and diplomats – so we can overcome and avoid constraints on civil society effectively.

(Icon credit: Kokota & Swifticons)

Key Initiatives

Civic Space Initiative

The Civic Space Initiative is an alliance of four global organizations—ICNL, Article 19, CIVICUS, and the World Movement for Democracy—that seeks to create a world in which civil society can thrive.

Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund

Through the Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund, ICNL provides rapid-response advocacy and resiliency grants to civil society organizations coping with urgent threats to freedoms of association, expression, and assembly.

Enabling & Protecting Civic Space

ICNL is a core partner in the Illuminating New Solutions and Programmatic Innovations for Resilient Spaces consortium, which tackles threats to civil society with cutting-edge research, strategic interventions, and a robust learning agenda.

Key Resources

Effective Donor Responses to the Challenge of Closing Civic Space

This 2018 report examines the ways in which donor governments can effectively support civic space in challenging environments.

Defending Civil Society, Second Edition

This 2012 report provides examples of the legal barriers that governments use to constrain civic space and articulates international legal principles to protect civil society.

Defending Civil Society Toolkit: Tips for Engaging in NGO Law Reforms

This online toolkit provides tips, tools, and strategies to help activists advocate for an enabling environment for civil society in their home countries.

A Global Assault on Nonprofits

This 2015 Journal of Democracy article by ICNL president Douglas Rutzen summarizes recent developments in the global crackdown on civil society.

UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Civil Society Space

This 2014 resolution urges states to support civil society and encourages good practices, such as those compiled in the report from the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on creating and maintaining a safe and enabling environment.

All Defending Civil Society Resources

Top Trends: COVID-19 and Civic Space

Pennsylvania Commonwealth microbiologist Kerry Pollard performs a manual extraction of the coronavirus inside the extraction lab at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories on Friday, March 6, 2020. (Photo: Office of Tom Wolf/Flickr)
The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a parallel crisis for civic space. Many of the emergency ... Read More

Positive Government Responses to COVID-19

Positive Government Responses to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic does not have to be a crisis for human rights. In the ... Read More

The Law Affecting Civil Society in Asia

UNSR meeting with civil society and human rights defenders on Asia issues in March 2019 (Photo: Jeff Vize)
Made up of more than 40 countries, Asia defies easy categorization. On the one hand, ... Read More

Overview: Critical Infrastructure Bills in the US

An Alaska pipeline (Photo: Jim Black/Pixabay)
Across the country, communities are gathering at rallies and marches to express concerns about pipelines’ ... Read More

Practical Guide on Tanzania Media Laws

Behind the scenes of videographer Cory of Know Budget Films, Los Angeles (Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash)
This handbook builds an understanding of the legal and policy framework affecting the daily work ... Read More

UNSR Report on Assembly and Association Rights in the Digital Era

(Photo credit: Tianyi Ma/Unsplash)
In this 2019 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful ... Read More
Explore our full resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.