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

Research Study: Challenges Facing Refugees and Migrants in Exercising Civic Freedoms in Jordan

Challenges facing refugees and migrants in exercising their civic freedoms in Jordan.
This study attempts to identify the legislative and procedural obstacles that limit the exercise of ... Read More

Shaping of Bangladesh’s Third Sector – Laws and Policies

Three people speaking at a conference about shaping of third sector - laws and policies.
USAID’s Promoting Advocacy and Rights (PAR), along with partners Counterpart International and ICNL, hosted a ... Read More

Guidelines for Activists Relocating to Lithuania

The Old Town in Vilnius, Lithuania May 2009 (Photo: FromTheNorth/Flickr)
These guidelines, put together by the NGO Law Institute (NGOLI) with the support of ICNL, ... Read More

Guidelines for Activists Relocating to Georgia

Tbilisi cityscapes with a cable car. (Photo: Katarzyna Javaheri-Szpak/WikiMedia)
These guidelines are designed to help activists from Belarus and other Eurasian countries who relocate ... Read More

Civic Space in Myanmar

A river and bridge at sunset in Myanmar
This report, undertaken by a Myanmar civil society organization and its local partner networks, examines ... Read More

Myanmar Civic Space Assessment

Sunset over Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo: Martin Sojka)
With support from ICNL, local civil society organizations (CSOs) assessed the operational civic space for ... 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.