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 State of Civic Freedoms in North Africa and the Middle East

A man hoists a flag into the air (photo credit: Artem Nezvigin/Flickr)
This report presents findings from an in-depth study, supported by the United States Agency for ... Read More

Effective Donor Responses

Effective donor support (photo credit: Steve Elgersma/Flickr)
Civil society and the ability to exercise the core civic space freedoms – the freedoms ... Read More

OGP: The Guide to Opening Government

OGP: The Guide to Opening Government
This guide, authored by ICNL at the invitation of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), provides ... Read More

What’s The Foreign Agents Registration Act? We’ve Got Answers

What’s The Foreign Agents Registration Act? We’ve Got Answers
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a disclosure statute enacted in 1938, was designed to ... Read More

Reinforcing Marginalization

Reinforcing Marginalization
Civil society advocates have helped propel the global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic ... Read More

Workshop Report: Closing Space for Civil Society and Media in East Africa

Workshop Report: Closing Space for Civil Society and Media in East Africa
The East Africa region is vibrant with civic activity driven by diverse civil society formations ... 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.