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.

Highlights

Thailand flag on building (photo credit: pixabay.com)
UPDATED: 4 Things to Know About Thailand’s Proposed NPO Bill

On January 4, 2022, the Thai Cabinet approved a revised draft non-profit organization (NPO) bill drafted by the Office of the Council of State, which replaced a prior version of the Bill approved by the Cabinet in February 2021. While containing more enabling provisions than its predecessor, the new draft NPO Bill introduces far-reaching restrictions that threaten to undermine civic space for all non-profit organizations in Thailand. These restrictions run counter to international norms regarding the freedom of association, and violate multiple aspects of international law. In this analysis, we highlight four key concerns with the current draft law.

Shoppers in Hong Kong wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020. (Andrii Makukha/Wikimedia)
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 policies. It covers examples of digital surveillance, lack of access to public health information, and attacks on community COVID initiatives and medical frontline workers. Despite the challenges, civil society has responded with creative resilience, developing tools to protect the rights of protesters, safeguarding digital space through independent fact-checking to challenge false government narratives, and strengthening volunteerism initiatives. Read the full briefer here.

Sit-in protest in Whitehall, UK in May 2009 (Photo: Southbanksteve/Wikimedia)
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 policies in the Indo-Pacific region have affected civil society’s freedom of expression. It examines various repressive measures and highlights targeted groups. The briefer concludes that such measures have limited civic discourse and chilled free expression, to the disadvantage of democratic pluralism and effective COVID management across the region. Read the full briefer here.

India flag (credit: unsplash.com)
India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act

In recent years, India has enacted a number of regulatory measures constricting funding for domestic non-profit organizations, the most well-known of which is the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA). The act represents a securitized approach to foreign funding that is out of step with international standards and has obstructed humanitarian and COVID relief efforts. Our resource page provides analysis, information, and key resources on FCRA.

A close up picture of the coronavirus (Photo: CDC/Unsplash)
Government Responses to COVID-19 in Asia and the Pacific

Using data from the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker, we follow government response to COVID across Asia and the Pacific. These include legislative actions, executive orders/decrees, and other practices that have not been codified, such as policies criminalizing the spread of information about COVID. This resource outlines examples of measures being used to address COVID that impact civic freedoms and is updated on an ongoing basis. Explore government responses to the pandemic in Asia and the Pacific 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.

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.

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.

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.