Global Program

ICNL’s Global Program seeks to protect and expand freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly by promoting protective norms at regional, national, and local levels worldwide. With our partners, we embed support for civil society and an enabling legal environment in the activities of multilateral bodies, such as the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation and the Open Government Partnership. We also support the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council and its special rapporteurs who have mandates related to civic space. ICNL’s Global Program ensures that civil society partners can effectively use global and regional standards to defend civic space at all levels.

Be sure to browse our Key Initiatives and Key Resources.


Lifeline Advocacy in Restricted Spaces Toolkit cover image
Advocacy in Restricted Spaces

The Advocacy in Restricted Spaces toolkit is a practical resource that emphasizes that advocacy is possible even in highly restrictive contexts. Created by the Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund, the toolkit is intended for use by grassroots, national, and regional organizations that want to engage in advocacy in restrictive environments. It includes concrete examples and new perspectives on mobilizing around opportunities for change. While many advocacy resources are oriented toward groups operating in functioning democracies where basic freedoms are respected, this toolkit provides real-world examples of how civil society can be effective even under significant duress. Visit the Freedom House website to learn more and download the toolkit here.

UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ni Aolain (photo credit: United Nations photo)
“Soft Law” and Informal Standard-Setting in the Area of Counterterrorism

The United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, has prioritized research in fulfilling her mandate. To support her efforts, ICNL partially funded a briefing paper by the UN special rapporteur and Dr. Krisztina Huszti-Orban that was published by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center. The paper addresses the proliferation of new institutions and the “soft” law standards they produce, with particular emphasis on the implications of these developments on the functioning of civil society organizations and civic space. It builds on her earlier report on the misuse of counterterrorism measures to restrict civic space.

International flags (photo credit: Kevin Schoenmakers)
Civil Society and the Financial Action Task Force

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is a global intergovernmental body that sets standards for combating money laundering and terrorist financing. Country-level adoption of FATF standards sometimes results in undesirable restrictions on the activities of civil society organizations. To avoid this development, ICNL helps civil society actors understand and engage in the implementation of FATF standards. For example, in April 2019, ICNL and the West Africa Civil Society Institute organized a FATF training in Ghana for English-speaking West African organizations. Additional workshops are planned for later this year in Francophone West Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia.

Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the new UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. (photo credit: Clément Nyaletsossi Voule)
Challenges to Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age

The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, has identified the challenges posed by digital technology as a key priority during his tenure. To support his efforts, ICNL arranged for the special rapporteur to meet with civil society organizations working on technology, digital rights, and media issues in Mexico City and Nairobi. The consultations resulted in observations and recommendations that the special rapporteur can draw on in his 2019 report on this important issue.

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—working together 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 against civic space.

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 research, strategic interventions, and a robust learning agenda.

Key Resources

ICNL has produced many research products exploring issues affecting civic space on the global level. Below are our key resources.

Effective Donor Responses to Closing Civic Space

The recent wave of constraints on civil society is a subject of concern worldwide. ICNL’s 2018 report contributes to the discussion by examining trends in the closing of civic space, the reasons donor governments should counter these trends, and the ways in which they can do so effectively.

Civic Freedoms & the Sustainable Development Goals

This 2018 report from the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association examines the links between the exercise of those rights and implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

A Global Assault on Nonprofits

Between 2010 and 2015, 35 percent of new restrictions imposed on civil society around the world focused on international funding. ICNL president Douglas Rutzen explores this trend as well as the global crackdown on civil society in this article in the Journal of Democracy.

Explore our full global resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.