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

Practical Guide on Tanzania Media Laws

Behind the scenes of videographer Cory of Know Budget Films, Los Angeles (Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash)
This handbook builds an understanding of the legal and policy framework affecting the daily work ... Read More

UNSR Report on Assembly and Association Rights in the Digital Era

(Photo credit: Tianyi Ma/Unsplash)
In this 2019 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful ... Read More

Assembly and Association in the Digital Era

Clement Voule, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association speaking with civil society and the private sector at RightsCon 2019 about strategic ideas on implementing the report recommendations to protect these fundamental freedoms (photo credit: ICNL)
On June 12, 2019, UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule issued a report (A/HRC/41/41) on the ... Read More

Closing Academic Space

Photo credit: wokandapix
Universities and other institutions of higher education around the world face increasing legislative, regulatory, and ... Read More

CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report

CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report
Each year, the CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report examines the key trends affecting civil ... Read More

UNSR report on the role of measures to address terrorism and violent extremism on closing civic space

UNSR report on the role of measures to address terrorism and violent extremism on closing civic space
in this report to the Human Rights Council, the UN special rapporteur on human rights ... 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.