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

The Danger of the Foreign Agents Registration Act to Civil Society at Home and Abroad

ICNL's work on the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is both sweeping and vague. Recently, there have been ... Read More

General Comment 37: A Short Guide for Civil Society

Women demonstrate for labor rights in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (photo credit: Jeff Vize)
This tool offers detailed guidance for civil society organizations on using General Comment 37 to ... Read More

Climate of Fear: Hong Kong’s New Security Law

Protesters in Hong Kong getting arrested by police, July 2020. (Photo: Studio Incendo/Wikimedia)
The passage of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law threatens to upend civic freedoms and ... Read More

Protecting Activists from Abusive Litigation

Protecting Activists from Abusive Litigation
In this report, ICNL presents the first cross-regional survey of SLAPPs in the Global South, ... Read More

Advocacy in Restricted Spaces Toolkit

Lifeline Advocacy in Restricted Spaces Toolkit cover image
The Advocacy in Restricted Spaces toolkit is a practical resource that emphasizes that advocacy is ... Read More

Closing Civic Space for Climate Activists

Climate justice protest. (Photo: Linh Do/Flickr)
This briefer, presented by ICNL and ECNL, outlines some of the common legal and extralegal ... 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.