Asia & the Pacific Program

ICNL works alongside local partners throughout Asia to foster an enabling legal environment for civil society, philanthropy, digital rights, and participation. Together we advance enabling legal reforms, respond to challenges, and raise awareness about international norms and current legal environments for civil society in the region. We also monitor the exercise of fundamental freedoms, including in online spaces, empower partners to counter authoritarianism, and share information on the latest trends and developments. Our partners include local and regional actors, civic organizations, and reformers in governments and parliaments.

Be sure to browse our Focus Areas, Key Resources, and Country Overviews.


COVID-19 in South Korea; Cover Image from 2024 Korea Pandemic Report
The Collaboration Dynamics of Government and Civil Society During COVID-19 in South Korea

South Korea stands out, regionally and worldwide, for its exemplary handling of the COVID-19 crisis. This groundbreaking paper explores examples of South Korea’s enabling, cooperative approach to civil society in emergency response, drawn partly from its learning around effective approaches in past public health crises.

national relief funds in asia during Covid 10.
National Relief Funds in Asia During COVID-19

When the COVID-19 global pandemic began in March 2020, some governments in Asia established their own relief funds to address the pandemic. These government-run (or “national”) relief funds typically accept both public and private donations, but are established and managed by governments, often for the purpose of meeting humanitarian needs. This paper explores government-run relief funds established for the purpose of COVID-19 pandemic response, and how these funds impacted civil society in countries in Asia.

japan's pandemic governance; photo credit Unsplashed Nakaharu Line Ek
Pandemic Governance & Civic Freedoms

Asia Centre’s previous research on COVID-19 pandemic management across Asia revealed a concerning trend marked by an increase in laws and regulations curtailing civic freedoms. However, amidst these challenges, a few Asian nations have garnered international recognition for effectively curbing the virus while generally safeguarding civic freedoms. Japan, the focus of this report, stands out for adeptly utilising its legal framework without compromising fundamental rights, earning acclaim for balanced pandemic management.

report breaking barriers to multistakeholder collaboration
Breaking Barriers to Multistakeholder Collaboration

A report by the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) finds that the ability for civil society to promote change in the region is increasingly restricted, particularly with the advent of contact tracing apps (CTAs) created as a COVID-19 response.

SAFEnet recommends coordinating the work of civil society to focus on digital rights whilst working together with authorities and the private sector to mitigate the risks of civil society being surveilled by adversarial actors.

Baspa River, photo credit Sanyam Bahga via Creative Commons taken from
Environmental Decisions & Public Engagement in India

Explore the impacts of disenfranchisement of local communities and tribal peoples of North Urimari in this Case Study: Public Input in Indian Coal Mines.

Discover the impacts of disenfranchisement of local communities and tribal peoples of Kinnaur around the Shongtong Hydroelectric Project in this Case Study: Public Input in Indian Environmental Decisions.

Examine the current environmental regulatory system in India and civil society and learn more about the recommendations for broadening the space for public engagement in the Report: Locating the Public in Indian Environmental Decision Making.

Taiwan Covid-19 Response; photo credit Veseh via
Collaborative Governance in Taiwan’s Covid-19 Pandemic Response

Authored by ICNL consultant, Shawn Shieh, this report praises Taiwan’s pandemic governance for its transparent, collaborative nature in which government agencies worked with civil society to deal with COVID-19. With low case numbers and death counts, Taiwan was able to avoid stringent measures such as lockdowns and school and workplace closings for much of the pandemic. Read the full report in English here or in Chinese here.

Focus Areas

Participants reading over a poster at a July, 2016 workshop in Myanmar on the implementation of the Association Registration Law, convened by the CSO Working Group and the Ministry of Home Affairs, with the support of USAID and FHI 360.

Advancing Legal Reform

ICNL works with local partners to expand and protect civic space. When legal threats emerge, as in Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere, ICNL supports local efforts to advocate against restrictive measures and engage in informed dialogue with governments.

Women demonstrate for labor rights in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (photo credit: Jeff Vize)

Strengthening Local Partners

From raising awareness of national laws and international norms in Bangladesh to helping partners better regulate themselves in Nepal, we work alongside local partners to strengthen their efforts to defend and promote civic space.

UNSR meeting with civil society and human rights defenders on Asia issues in March 2019 (Photo: Jeff Vize)

Creating Knowledge

ICNL undertakes cutting-edge research on laws and trends shaping civic space throughout Asia, informing policy discussions and advocacy efforts. We monitor developments through the Civic Freedom Monitor, ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Monitor, and more.

Key Resources

ICNL has produced many research products related to Asia. Below are our key resources.

India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act

In recent years, India has enacted several measures constricting funding for domestic nonprofit organizations, including the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA). Our resource page provides analysis, information, and key resources on FCRA.

Myanmar’s Association Law, FATF Blacklisting, and the Media

This ICNL partner analysis assesses the potential impact of Myanmar’s 2022 Association Registration Law and October of 2022 FATF blacklisting on media and civil society actors.

Government Responses to COVID

This page provides information on Asian and Pacific government responses to the coronavirus, using information from the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker.

Resilience in Southeast Asia

Authored by ICNL consultant Kirana Anjani, this briefer draws from data in the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedoms Tracker to examine challenges faced by civil society in Southeast Asia as a result of authoritarian COVID-19 policies.

A Pandemic of Silence

Written by ICNL consultant Meghna Sharma, this briefer draws from data in the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedoms Tracker to explore how authoritarian COVID-19 policies in the Indo-Pacific region have affected civil society’s freedom of expression in Asia.

Laws Affecting Civil Society in Asia

This publication, updated in December 2019, examines a broad array of regulatory trends shaping civil society in more than forty countries of Asia.

Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index

The CSO Sustainability Index informs and impacts the role of civil society organizations in six global regions, including Asia and the Pacific. ICNL and FHI 360, along with local partners produce the index annually.

Cambodia Fundamental Freedoms Monitor

This report outlines recent findings on the status of freedoms of association, assembly, and expression in both law and practice in Cambodia.

Analysis: Hong Kong’s New Security Law

Hong Kong’s National Security Law threatens to upend civic freedoms and usher in a new era of restricted civic space. This ICNL piece offers an in-depth expert analysis on how the Law affects the future of civic freedoms.

Explore our full global resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.

Country Overviews

ICNL currently has active programs in 12 countries.