Development & Civic Space

Civil society is an independent development actor in its own right—essential to “leaving no one behind” by serving the underserved and ensuring that communities are included in building their future.

When civil society organizations, governments, and international development agencies cooperate effectively, positive and lasting change can take root. The United Nations General Assembly has declared that “effective participation by civil society” is “an essential part of the necessary foundations for the realization of social and people-centered sustainable development.”

However, civil society around the world face is facing new restrictions in its ability to engage in development. These restrictions impede progress, especially for marginalized groups. They also contradict international legal standards and commitments that emphasize the need for an enabling environment for civil society, including the 2011 Busan Partnership Agreement, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. ICNL engages with a variety of international bodies to monitor and reinforce countries’ adherence to their commitments so that civil society can contribute meaningfully to development goals.

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Key Resources

Ulaanbaatar Declaration on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies in Asia and Beyond

The 2019 Ulaanbaatar Democracy Forum brought together Asian governments, regional and global bodies, and civil society organizations to share their experiences in implementing United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16, which urges the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. The statement expresses concern that, despite international commitments, civic space is shrinking. ICNL participated in the meeting and contributed to this declaration.

Nairobi Outcome Document

The 2016 High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation in Nairobi defined development effectiveness and set the agenda for the implementation of the 2011 Busan Partnership Agreement, which proposes principles, commitments, and actions for effective cooperation in international development. The document summarizes the results of the meeting, as well as advocacy by ICNL, including an acknowledgment of the worldwide shrinking of civic space and a commitment to accelerate the creation of an enabling environment for civil society.

Busan Partnership Agreement

The 2011 Busan Partnership Agreement was a landmark agreement signed by more 100 countries and 50 international development organizations. It outlines the principles of development effectiveness along with concrete steps for putting the principles into action. Paragraph 22 recognizes the contribution of civil society organizations to achieving sustainable development and commits signatories to help CSOs “exercise their roles as independent development actors, with a particular focus on an enabling environment, consistent with agreed international rights.”

Civic Freedoms & the Sustainable Development Goals

This 2018 report to the United Nations General Assembly by the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, drafted with ICNL’s help, lays out the relationship between the exercise of these key rights and implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015, calls on UN members states to end extreme poverty and fight inequality, injustice, and climate change by realizing the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals.

Practical Recommendations for CSO Participation in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

These practical recommendations, by UN Special Rapporteur Clément N/ Voule, ensure the participation of civil society in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and are a valuable tool for all actors engaged in  advancing effective CSO participation in development processes.

OECD Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance

This report by the OECD Development Assistance Committee provides recommendations for  including and enabling civil society in development and humanitarian processes.

All Development & Civic Space Resources

2018 Report of the UN Secretary General on Progress Toward the SDGs

2018 Report of the UN Secretary General on Progress Toward the SDGs
This report provides a global overview of the current situation of the Sustainable Development Goals, ... Read More

At the Intersection of Security and Regulation

At the Intersection of Security and Regulation
This 2018 report by the Human Security Collective and ECNL examines the phenomenon of “de-risking,” ... Read More

Reinforcing Marginalization

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

Making Development Co-operation More Effective

Making Development Co-operation More Effective
This report provides the results of the second global monitoring exercise by the Global Partnership ... Read More

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2016

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2016
This report launched by the UN Secretary-General in July 2016 provides more detail on the ... 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.