Closing Civic Space: Impact on Development & Humanitarian CSOs

Global Trends in NGO Law, Volume 7, Issue 3 (September 2016)

Multiple reports have outlined the plight of human rights and other advocacy organizations around the globe in the face of escalating legal restrictions on civil society. Often overlooked in such reporting is the similarly difficult experience of civil society organizations (CSOs) focused on development, which have also witnessed the deterioration of an enabling environment conducive to their success.

The importance of domestic and international CSOs’ involvement in development and humanitarian work has been routinely affirmed by the international community and codified in a variety of international declarations and agendas, including the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the Accra Agenda for Action, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, and most recently, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In many areas of the world, particularly remote, rural, and economically depressed areas, development organizations act as essential gap-fillers, providing important social services, disaster relief, capacity building opportunities, poverty alleviation, and other crucial services that the government and private sector may be unable to provide.

In order for development and humanitarian CSOs to carry out their critical work, they require, at a minimum, the freedom to exercise three interdependent rights: the rights to peacefully assemble, freely associate, and openly express themselves. Impediments to the exercise of these rights undermine civil society’s ability to contribute to a country’s development. This review of global state practice reveals that in an increasing number of countries, local and international CSOs engaged in critical development work are constrained from fully exercising their internationally protected rights, and thus, from serving the communities that need and depend on them.

This issue of Global Trends examines the key constraints and challenges faced by development CSOs, which, like CSOs focused on human rights and advocacy, have suffered under what civil society observers have described as one of the most intense crackdowns on CSOs witnessed in a generation.