Skip to main content

How to Protect and Expand an Enabling Environment


[ 2 ] [ 3 ] Over the past five years, Nepalese civil society organisations
(CSOs) have witnessed a degree of expansion in their
operational space. Nepalese CSOs feel that they can more
easily participate in government decisions on development
issues, and that their opinions are, to a greater extent than
before, taken into consideration. However, obstacles remain.
Political instability, absence of the rule of law, insufficient
state accountability, and inadequate security and protection
for human rights defenders threaten to undermine gains.
This document provides a summary of a report on the enabling
environment in Nepal produced by the Informal Sector
Service Centre (INSEC) with the support of DanChurchAid
(DCA). Similar reports have been developed on the enabling
environment in Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Colombia,
and Rwanda. Challenges to the operational environment of
CSOs are a worldwide phenomenon. DCA has engaged in this research because CSOs play a vital
role in the democratic development of their societies and
in holding governments to account for their human rights
obligations. It has been recognized that a strong and vibrant
civil society is a key component of sustainable and legitimate
development. Without it, aid is less likely to achieve its
objectives and people are more likely to suffer from policies
that fail to consider their needs. This is not a new argument.
Indeed, the world’s governments have made high-level
commitments (e.g. at the Fourth High Level Forum on
Aid Effectiveness in Busan) to enable a rights-based and
participatory environment in which civil society can thrive.
However, these commitments are yet to be achieved in full.
dca nepal

[ 4 ] Civil society advocates and activists are of the opinion that
democratic space in Nepal has expanded in recent years.
92.3% of CSO leaders assessed the government strategy
towards CSOs as supportive. CSO leaders reported positive
trends in the right to participation and freedom of expression.
The Interim Constitution of Nepal guarantees economic,
social, and cultural rights, and various constitutional bodies
and oversight mechanisms are in place to check government
accountability and transparency.
However, poor law and order conditions were a cause for
concern in some parts of the country. The prolonged political transition from civil war to stability and democracy has had
a negative impact on the functioning of public oversight
bodies. Political parties are monopolising the democratic
space, which has led to fragile and non-performing
governance systems. The state has not yet met the need for
law and order enforcement, which has encouraged impunity.
Enforced strikes frequently called by political parties shut
down the country for extended periods. These strikes are
often violently enforced which disrupts law and order. For
CSOs, especially human rights activists, this lack of law and
order spells insecurity.
The findings of the study are based on the views of the Nepalese
CSOs on developments in their enabling environment, as
expressed through both online questionnaire surveys and
focus group discussions. The survey questions were designed
with reference to the rights and responsibilities outlined
in the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of
Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and
Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights (including the
right to development) and Fundamental Freedoms, which
was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998. 28 CSO
leaders who manage national level organisations answered
the survey. 12 focus group discussions were carried out
among 129 persons belonging to different CSOs from diverse
backgrounds. Each focus group discussion consisted of
approximately 10 people. The focus group discussions were
carried out across Nepal’s 11 districts
1. The final process was
a national consultation with 36 CSO representatives, where
a compilation of findings from earlier processes was shared
for input and feedback. CSOs working in various sectors were
represented across all forms of engagement. The study was
carried out in the period from July 2013 to September 2013.
1. Illam, Morang & Siraha of Eastern Development Region, Dolakha & Janakpur of Central Development Region, Kaski & Rupandehi of Western
Development Region, Banke & Surkhet of Mid-Western Development Region and Kailali & Dadeldhura of Far-Western Development Region
photo: dca nepal

This section will give a status report on the enabling environment for Nepali CSOs, in relation to the following rights:

The right to participate
 The right to freedom of assembly
 The right to freedom of association and expression, and the right to physical integrity
 The right to unhindered access to and communication with non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations, and
international bodies
 Access to information and the right to seek, obtain, receive and hold Information
 The right to access resources for the purpose of protecting human rights, including the receipt of funds from abroad
The right to participate
The majority of CSO leaders (64.5%) found government
strategy towards CSOs relatively supportive in that it did not
obstruct CSO activities. The same number of CSO leaders
was of the opinion that the enabling environment is more
supportive and inclusive than it was five years ago. 72% of
respondents felt that they have been able to enhance their
activities and impact by 50% over the past five years. These
are positive trends.
The right to freedom of assembly
With regard to the right to freedom of assembly, most CSO
leaders responded positively. 76% found it either very easy
or quite easy to organize peaceful protest without fear of
state reprisals. However, 24% of the respondents found it
either difficult or very difficult to organize public protests or
other forms of gatherings against government policy. While
the state looks unfavourably on CSOs using public protests
to draw attention to the government’s non-compliance with
international conventions, the state does not use pressure or
force to prevent them from doing so.
The right to freedom of association,
freedom of expression and
the right to physical integrity
Although no legal restrictions were reported with regard to
the right to freedom of association and the state has not
threatened NGOs with closure, there remain reasons for
concern. An overwhelming majority of CSO leaders (73%)
feel unsafe when carrying out their work. This is particularly
acute for CSOs that work on the protection and promotion of
human rights. There is a perception that the state has not
done enough to build an environment where human rights
defenders can be secure, and this remains a de facto threat
to the freedom of association. This lack of protection of
human rights defenders has a negative effect on the ability
of CSOs to protect the rights of people in general.
61.5% of CSO leaders reported having been occasionally
subjected to public defamation by government authorities.
For 19.2%, this experience was rare. This is largely because
some government authorities see NGOs as exploiters,
abusing social conditions for their continued existence. The majority of NGO leaders (65.4%) said that it is quite easy
for their organisations to have their opinions published in
local or national newspapers. Over the last five years, CSOs
have not experienced restrictions on their right to express
their views publicly.
The right to unhindered access to and
communication with non-governmental
and inter-governmental organisations,
and international bodies
CSOs frequently dialogue and coordinate with the government.
42.3% of CSO leaders reported that they participated in
working groups established by the government, and that
they are often invited to give feedback on state initiatives.
61.5% feel that their views are taken into consideration much
more now than five years ago. However, despite positive
trends in relation to CSOs’ access to and communication with
government structures, the involvement of CSOs in decision-
making is inconsistent. 46.2% of the respondents said that
the way in which the authorities engaged with CSOs varied
depending on the size, work and influence of the CSO. The
authorities were inclined to discourage those with limited
budgets and resources, while accommodating those with
reach and influence. Likewise, the CSOs’ area of work also
played a role in the state´s response. The state views CSOs
working with rights and with an advocacy or mobilization
focus as potential threats and, therefore, is less likely to co-
operate with these groups.
At the district level, officials occasionally engage with
CSOs on common issues related to implementation,
strategy, achievements and beneficiaries. However, their
representatives mostly comprise junior staff members who
are often ill-equipped to add value or take decisions. CSOs
also criticised the reluctance of government authorities to
coordinate with CSOs. Good coordination between CSOs
and government authorities often depends on the specific
attitudes towards CSOs in the particular government
structure, and on the knowledge that particular government
structure has of the CSO´s mandate. CSOs believe that
government authorities only coordinate with them in
situations when the authorities’ agenda is unlikely to be
implemented without CSO support.

[ 6 ] Corruption is also a problem when it comes to CSO access to
government authorities. There is an unspoken expectation
from the authorities of receiving payment for smooth
facilitation of permission. Government officials often expect
some remuneration for their presence at CSO events.
Access to Information and the Right to
Seek, Obtain, Receive and Hold Information
64% of CSO leaders find it either difficult or very difficult to
access timely information about the government’s budget
and policy decisions. Personal relationships between CSOs
and government departments play a role when it comes to
receiving timely information. This creates instability within
the CSO enabling environment, as it is difficult to predict or to take decisions on how to adapt to government budgets
and policies.
The right to access resources for the
purpose of protecting human rights,
including the receipt of funds from abroad
A small majority of the respondents found it difficult to
access foreign funding. The reason for this is donor practices
rather than state restrictions. CSO leaders point to a lack of
coordination between in-country donors in terms of focus
areas, modes of operation and conditions of agreements.
This results in some sectors receiving more funds to the
exclusion of other key areas.
dca nepal, marianne lemvig

The following are the key recommendation developed by the Nepalese and
international CSOs involved in this study.
Recommendations for
the Government of Nepal

Continue to further the involvement of and coordination
with CSOs on developmental issues by, inter alia,
amending the current Association Registration Act to
respond to changed and current needs of CSOs;
 Nurture a culture among government staff that promotes
the equal treatment of CSOs, regardless of their size,
resources or influence. The government should also
develop measures to institutionalize this practice;
 Establish a single window framework for CSO registration,
approvals and implementation of programmes. Currently,
there are a variety of procedures and departments,
all of which have different systems in place. A unified
mechanism would go a long way in mainstreaming CSO
engagement with the state;
 Promote an environment of safety for all CSO staff and
ensure effective mechanisms for their protection. This
is especially critical for CSOs working on human rights
 Develop an understanding among political parties of the
role of CSOs in democratic and sustainable development;
 Institutionalize mechanisms for political parties to
become more accountable to the state, as this would
promote greater cooperation with CSOs;
 Accept visits from UN Special Rapporteurs, including
the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights to freedom
of peaceful assembly and association, human rights
defenders, and freedom of expression.
Key Recommendations to
the EU and other international donors
 Engage actively in the EU CSO roadmap process and
improve coordination with each other in terms of focus
areas, modes of operation and conditions of agreements;
 Include a strong focus on the enabling environment for
civil society when elaborating the Civil Society roadmap
for Nepal. It is of key importance that the CSO roadmap
addresses the conditions needed to secure an enabling
environment de jure and de facto, in line with the
understanding of an enabling environment set out in the
EU CSO communication; 
Facilitate the necessary space and capacity so that a
diverse array of civil society organisations, including
those based outside Kathmandu, can engage with the
delegations, ensuring that their input influence EU
policies (from the grassroots to Brussels and back) and
inform the political dialogue between the EU and the
Nepalese government;
 Ensure that civil society in Nepal is meaningfully involved
in the process of implementing, monitoring and revising
the country roadmaps so that these roadmaps provide
the framework for a structured, broad, and inclusive
engagement with clear timeframes and adequate and
accessible information;
 Put in place mechanisms for common engagement
between CSOs, INGOs and donors with respect to their
roles and function in Nepal. This can be facilitated
by the Social Welfare Council for the purpose of both
communication and coordination across the sector.
Key Recommendations to the UN
 The UN should monitor the enabling environment for
civil society and the protection and security of human
rights defenders in Nepal through the Universal Periodic
Review, relevant treaty body mechanisms, and its special

[ 8 ] DanChurchAid
Nørregade 15
1165 Copenhagen K Denmark
Phone: +45 33 15 28 00
Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC)
Syuchatar, Kalanki, Kathmandu, Nepal G.P.O. Box: 2726, Kathmandu Nepal
Phone: +977-1-4278770 Fax: +977-1-4 270551