Inter-American Principles for Civil Society

Setting the Standard


Although the freedom of association is enshrined in constitutions across the Americas, restrictions to this right are common. Compounding this issue, government officials shaping civil society organization (CSO) regulations often replicate flawed laws from neighboring countries, perpetuating bad practices. To address this problem and present positive models instead, ICNL joined forces with Ramiro Orias of the Inter-American Juridical Committee (IAJC)—an advisory body of the Organization of American States (OAS)—to create enabling standards for CSO regulations in the region.

Through a participatory process involving more than 100 CSO practitioners and legal experts from across the Americas, ICNL and Orias developed the InterAmerican Principles on the Creation, Operation, Financing, and Dissolution of Not-for-Profit Civil Entities. Adopted in March 2023, the twelve straightforward principles set a benchmark for OAS member states’ regulation of CSOs, from establishment to dissolution.

Advocates across the region are already using this document to challenge constraints on civic space. In Guatemala, our local partner used the Principles to initiate discussions with government officials on improving the country’s highly restrictive laws. After these meetings, officials carried out an initial assessment of Guatemalan regulations in light of the principles and pledged to use them to guide future revisions.

The principles are also being used as regional standards to promote accountability for governments that enact restrictive policies. In September, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights invoked them in a report on shrinking civic space in Nicaragua, where thousands of CSOs have had their legal status revoked since 2018.

ICNL is committed to supporting our partners and government officials in harnessing these principles to champion and safeguard the right to freedom of association across the Americas.

This story is from our 2023 Annual Report. Each story in the report demonstrated how ICNL and our partners have strengthened the threads of resilience in civil societies worldwide.