ICNL’s Global Program seeks to protect and expand freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly by advancing global and regional norms that can be used to defend civic space at the national and local levels. With our partners, we seek opportunities to create and bolster protective norms across a variety of international bodies, such as the Financial Action Task Force, the OECD, and the Open Government Partnership. We also work in and through the United Nations, where we partner with civil society and governments to promote civic space and fundamental freedoms in the Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly, and the UN Security Council and support the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Human Rights Committee, including by contributing to the work of special rapporteurs who have mandates related to civic space.
On July 27, 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee issued General Comment No. 37, the Committee’s first comprehensive guidance on the right of peaceful assembly. This landmark document – developed with assistance from ICNL and our partners – presents progressive principles and standards on a range of issues relating to the right to engage in protests, meetings, and other gatherings, and will empower civil society to advance full respect for this right at the local, regional, and international levels.
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.
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.
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.
ICNL has produced many research products exploring issues affecting civic space on the global level. Below are our key resources.
The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, 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 drew on in his 2019 report on this important issue.
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.
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.