Civil society and the ability to exercise civic freedoms – the freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly – have been under threat for many years. Governments continue to enact laws and regulations that impede civil society – individuals, organizations and movements – to exist and operate. The global trend is marked by the use of law as a repressive tool, converting the concept of “rule of law” into “rule by law.”
The wave of civic space constraints – which is unlikely to recede soon – has been the focus of much study and discussion. This report examines how donor governments can effectively support civic space in this challenging environment. What strategies, approaches and practices can donors consider to protect civic space? The report examines the trends in civic space constraints, why donor governments should be countering these trends, and how they can effectively do so.
While there is, of course, no guarantee for success, there have been successful efforts to counter restrictions and protect civic space. The report details these responsive strategies, and puts forward the following key recommendations:
Donors should articulate a clear vision of support for civil society as part of their development and foreign policy statements.
Donors should demonstrate commitment to long-term support, as defending civic space is an ongoing challenge. Crisis-oriented support, while necessary and important, is not sufficient.
Donors should strive toward policy coherence and coordination between development agencies, foreign ministries, and other agents of foreign policy.
Donors should continue to empower civil society. There are multiple areas of potential engagement, but all engagement must seek to support local leadership, and should recognize the advantages of multi-pronged responsive strategy.
As the nature of global challenges evolve, donors should be nimble and ready to adapt responses in innovative ways. This includes adapting aid modalities to current realities, including the emergence of social movements, social media, youth activists, and others as key change actors.
Donors should seek to support recipient country governments to defend and expand civic space
Donors should be alert to opportunities to engage with private sector allies on issues affecting human rights and civic space.
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) 2018