International Norms & Agreements

We seek to enhance international norms and multilateral engagement to safeguard the freedoms of association, expression, and assembly.

Cornerstone concepts about civil society, civic participation, and international development cooperation are contested around the world. It is crucial that progressive norms emerge at the international level.

ICNL promotes their development by engaging with the United Nations, regional human rights mechanisms, and global multi-stakeholder initiatives to defend and advance progressive international law and norms protecting civic space.

The United Nations

ICNL engages with United Nations mechanisms, such as the UN Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteurs, and the UN Human Rights Committee, to defend and advance progressive international law and norms protecting civic space.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (the HRC or Council) serves as both a forum for dialogue and a mechanism to promote the implementation of human rights obligations by member states. The HRC is composed of 47 states, which are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. It can address any human rights issue brought to its attention and set up processes to address them. The Council also oversees the Universal Periodic Review, through which the human rights records of all UN member states are reviewed; and UN Special Procedures, which includes special rapporteurs, independent experts, and working groups that monitor and report on human rights issues.

Human Rights Council Overview

This booklet on the Human Rights Council explains briefly the history of the Council, what it is, and how it functions today, including some of its key mechanisms, such as the UPR process and Special Procedures.

UN Guidelines for States on the effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs

These guidelines, produced in 2018, provide a number of basic principles and recommendations to help States and others effectively implement the right to participate in public affairs. They cover participation at the national and international levels and include a focus on participation in electoral processes.

Recent Resolutions

Civic space and peaceful protest are regularly are normally the subject of biannual Council resolutions. The most recent civic space resolution was adopted in 2019 and can be found here.  The most recent peaceful protest resolution, available here, was adopted in 2020.

The UN Human Rights Committee is a body of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Committee reviews and provides observations on reports submitted by states on how rights are implemented,  and issues General Comments on the scope and meaning of the Covenant’s provisions. The Committee’s General Comments are among the most authoritative sources regarding the provisions of the ICCPR. ICNL and ECNL have worked with the Committee to provide resources and expert advice during the development of the General Comment on the right of peaceful assembly currently being drafted and to ensure that civil society perspectives are reflected in the General Comment.

General Comment on Article 21: The Right to Peaceful Assembly

General Comment No. 37 offers comprehensive guidance on the right of peaceful assembly. ICNL and ECNL worked with the Committee to provide resources and expert advice and to ensure that civil society perspectives were reflected. We continue to work with Committee members and partners to promote the Comment and ensure that this important guidance is deployed to protect this right.

General Comment on Article 19 - Freedom of Opinion and Expression

In 2011, the Committee issued a general comment on the freedoms of opinion and expression, which replaced a previous General Comment on the subject of these freedoms issued in 1983.

General Comment on Article 25 - Right to Participate in Public Affairs

In 1996, the Committee issued a general comment on the right to participate in public affairs. This General Comment has been more recently complemented by the draft Guidelines on the effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs, issued by OHCHR in 2018.

ICNL supports United Nations Special Rapporteurs (UNSRs) with mandates relevant to civic freedoms, including the UNSRs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; and the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. On issues relating to civic freedoms, we work with these and other mandate holders by supporting their research, convening consultations with civil society, and hosting events to publicize special rapporteurs’ official reports.”

Freedom of assembly & association in the digital age

In this 2019 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Voule, focuses on the opportunities and challenges facing these rights in the digital age.

Counterterrorism and Closing Civic Space

This 2019 report by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism explores the connection between multilateral and national counterterrorism efforts and the global trend of closing civic space.

Right to Freedom of Association of Migrants and their Defenders

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants published this thematic study on the right to freedom of association of migrants in 2020. The report examines recent trends in restrictions in law and in practice on freedom of association for migrants and civil society organizations that work to protect migrants’ rights.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is part of the United Nations Secretariat. OHCHR is headed by the High Commissioner, who is the highest-ranking UN human rights officer. It is responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the UN system and works with a variety of partners, including national human rights institutions and civil society. The Office also supports a variety of UN mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council, Special Procedures, and expert committees tasked with monitoring international human rights treaties. ICNL partners with OHCHR in a variety of ways, including the organization of civil society consultations and expert input into OHCHR-led processes.

OHCHR Frequently Asked Questions

More information about the OHCHR, including its organizational structure, relationship with other UN bodies, and working methods can be found on their Frequently Asked Questions page.

Guidelines on the Right to Participate in Public Affairs

These Guidelines, drafted in 2018, provide directions for states on how to support the right to participate in public affairs and ensure effective participation. ICNL and ECNL supported the development of the guidelines, working with the OHCHR to organize civil society and expert input.

Civil Society Engagement with International Organizations

This 2018 report from the High Commissioner for Human Rights looks at civil society engagement with international and regional organizations. It examines the importance of working with the sector, discusses challenges, and provides recommendations for better engagement with civil society.

Supporting an Enabling Environment for Civil Society

This 2016 Report from the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides practical recommendations for protecting a safe and enabling environment for civil society, based on good practices and lessons learned.

Multilateral Initiatives

ICNL works with global multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the Financial Action Task Force, Open Government Partnership, and the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation to promote civic freedoms. These platforms are crucial for the promotion of civic space, serving to convene stakeholders around shared interests, such as development effectiveness and open governance.

The Financial Action Task Force is the main intergovernmental body setting international standards to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Among the FATF guidelines, Recommendation 8 specifically addresses the regulation of civil society organizations. Civil society actors should understand the guidelines, given their global influence and the risk that states can introduce excessive, unjustified restrictions in an effort to comply with FATF standards.

FATF Recommendation 8

Recommendation 8 and its interpretive note describe the ways in which countries should counter the financing of terrorism in the nonprofit sector. It should be read in conjunction with Recommendation 1 and its interpretive note, which explains FATF’s risk-based approach to countering money laundering and terrorist financing.

Mutual Evaluation Procedures and Methodology

The FATF Recommendations and the Methodology for Assessing Compliance are crucial to understanding the approach to monitoring state compliance and ensuring that the regulation of civil society is risk-based, focused, and proportionate.

How Can Civil Society Effectively Engage in Counterterrorism Processes

This 2018 paper from ECNL and the Human Security Collective provides guidance to CSOs wishing to engage in the FATF country evaluation process.

The Global NPO Coalition

The Global NPO Coalition a loose network of diverse nonprofit organizations (NPOs) that advocate for improved quality and effectiveness of FATF Mutual Evaluations. Recommendations include sustained outreach to the NPO sector and effective, risk-based implementation of FATF Recommendations affecting NPOs, particularly Recommendation 8. ICNL and ECNL are active members of the coalition.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an initiative that brings together governments and civil society to promote transparency, accountability, and participation in public affairs. Every two years, OGP governments work with civil society to develop National Action Plans, which outline concrete commitments to advance open government. OGP’s members include almost 100 national and local governments, who commit to protect and expand civic space. ICNL is working with OGP to expand the organization’s focus on an enabling environment as a component of open government and to support civil society participation in developing and monitoring member states’ national action plans.

Guide to Opening Government - An Enabling Environment for Civil Society Organizations

This guide, produced by ICNL at the invitation of the Open Government Partnership, advises civil society organizations and OGP member states on creating an enabling environment for civil society. The guide also examines the most effective way for civic space issues to be presented and addressed in the OGP framework.


OGP’s 2019 global report, developed with ICNL input, provides an assessment of progress made by OGP members in the first eight years of the partnership. The report features deep dives into specific thematic areas, including freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and defending activists and journalists.

OGP Guide to Open Government and the Coronavirus

This initiative collects resources regarding effective open government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including thematic resources on long-term reforms that can build trust, resilience, and stronger societies. The thematic resource on civic space, developed with ICNL input, offers basic recommendations, examples, and resources for protecting civic space during the pandemic.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is a multi-stakeholder initiative that sets standards for the good governance of oil, gas, and mineral resources. EITI implementing countries establish multi-stakeholder groups made up of government, civil society, and industry representatives which work to implement the EITI Standard, including by ensuring civil society engagement. Periodic assessments of country performances, known as “validations,” provide an opportunity to hold governments accountable for providing an enabling environment for civil society.

EITI Standard

The EITI Standard describes how the validation process works and sets out requirements that must be adhered to by implementing countries, including EITI Requirement 1.3, which requires that “Civil society must be fully, actively and effectively engaged in the EITI process.”

EITI Civil Society Protocol

This expands on Requirement 1.3 by providing “an assessment framework for the provisions related to civil society.” ICNL has worked with partners to provide expert advice on the civic space environment in countries of concern, such as Myanmar, in order to ensure that validations accurately reflect challenges facing local civil society.

ICNL-PWYP Submission on the Validation Process

In 2019, the EITI Board initiated a review of the validation process. ICNL and Publish What You Pay (PWYP) provided a joint submission urging an in-depth and holistic assessment of civic space in member countries to be included in the process.

Assessing Civil Society Engagement in the EITI Process

By feeding into EITI validations, civil society can promote accountability for restrictions imposed on civil society. In this guide, ICNL and Publish What You Pay explore on how civil society partners can provide inputs into EITI validations and highlight concerns about civic space in EITI implementing countries.

Natural Resources Governance in the Philippines

Bantay Kita, an organization in the Philippines, has been a leader in developing inputs on civic space for submission as part of EITI validation. In this report, provided to the EITI Secretariat during the Philippines’ 2020 validation, Bantay Kita draws on EITI guidance and extensive field research to describe how restrictions on civic freedoms have undermined civil society engagement in the EITI process.

ICNL works with a variety of development-focused institutions and processes to promote the creation of an enabling environment for civil society. Among these institutions are the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (the OECD), the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment, and the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. ICNL also supports local organizations seeking to advocate for civil society participation as a prerequisite for the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

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

Civic Freedoms and the Sustainable Development Goals

This 2018 report by the UNSR 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.

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 SDG 16, which urges the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies. The statement expresses concern that, despite international commitments, civic space is shrinking.

Regional Mechanisms

ICNL promotes the development and strengthening of civic space standards at the regional level. In this effort, we have worked within the Inter-American Human Rights System and have supported the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. ECNL supports several European bodies in addressing challenges to civic space. ICNL also maintains several Civic Freedom Monitor reports on regional multilateral mechanisms.

Guidelines on Association & Assembly Rights in Africa

The guidelines of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides practical advice on protecting the rights of association and assembly. The guidelines are in the form of a regional legal instrument based on international law and best practices.

All International Norms & Agreements Related Resources

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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.