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

Legal and Regulatory Challenges Facing Civil Society Organizations in the United States

Legal and Regulatory Challenges Facing Civil Society Organizations in the United States
This briefing, released in February 2018, explores how select recent changes, or proposed changes, in ... Read More

Assessment of NGO Laws in Azerbaijan

Assessment of NGO Laws in Azerbaijan
In this publication, the ICNL Alliance compares laws pertaining to NGOs in Azerbaijan to international ... Read More

Monitoring Matrix on the Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development

Monitoring Matrix on the Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development
This tool measures the health of the legal, regulatory, and financial environment in which civil ... Read More

Assessment of the Legal Environment for Civil Society and Media in Nepal

A woman in Dhading giving interview for Milijuli Nepali (Photo credit: Bhawana Gurung/
This assessment examines the legal environment for civil society and the media in Nepal from ... Read More

The Special Rapporteur’s Assembly and Association Rights Factsheet Series

The Special Rapporteur's Assembly and Association Rights Factsheet Series
This series of factsheets summarizes the reports of former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights ... Read More

CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report 2017

CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report 2017
This report from CIVICUS details the key events, issues, and trends affecting civil society around ... 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.