Defending Civil Society

Since 2013, 103 countries have proposed more than 340 legislative initiatives that impact civil society.

Of these initiatives, more than 244 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 seven years, states introduced nearly 96 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.

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.

All Defending Civil Society Resources

FARA’s Double Life Abroad

Foreign Agents Registration Act
Around the world, governments are constraining civil society and dissent. A common tactic of these ... Read More

Civic Freedom Violations Committed by Myanmar’s Military Junta

protest against military coup in Myanmar; photo credit: creative commons Ninjastrikers
In this ICNL-supported analysis, Spring Archive and ND-Burma worked together to document civic freedom and ... Read More

Legislative Overview for Financial Sustainability for Civil Society in Central Asia

kazakhstan, photo credit Nozim Nurillaev via Unsplash
This Legislative Overview examines the regulation of civil society organizations’ key sources of income and ... Read More

Myanmar’s 2022 Registration Law

city of myanmar via upslash.
This assessment looks at the challenges and threats that Civil Society Organizations will face with ... Read More

Recommendations on Uzbek Draft Foreign Funding Regulation

uzbekistan via Unsplash
At the request of local CSOs, ICNL prepared recommendations for further improvement of the Draft ... Read More

The Impact of Counterterrorism Measures in Myanmar

Myanmar coup photo credit Pyae Sone Htyn via unsplash
The Myanmar military has a history of viewing civil society as an adversary and seeks ... 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.