An Overview of Global Initiatives on Countering Closing Space for Civil Society

This document maps institutionalized initiatives—by governments, regional bodies, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—that have been created in response to the global phenomenon of increasing restrictions on civil society space. In varying ways, these initiatives pursue the goal of reclaiming civic space and countering governments’ attempts to close space: spanning from advocacy from afar to financial support as well as legal and technical assistance provided to and by civil society on the ground. This collection has been generated on the basis of references to initiatives in several key works and has been complemented by references in other publications and targeted online searches as well as through feedback from regional experts in the context of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon).1 While it contains governmental and nongovernmental—often multi-stakeholder—initiatives with regional, sometimes even global, reach, it neither contains initiatives that are specific to a particular government and particular countries nor initiatives that solely focus on monitoring restrictions of civil society. The majority of the initiatives listed here have been created in the past couple of years in response to closing space; most of the initiatives are active today, although some are (temporarily) inactive or have ceased. The following overview is mainly based on the information offered online by the initiatives themselves.

The character of the initiatives in the mapping ranges from actions pursued by single organizations, cooperation between diverse civil society actors, broad alliances and network initiatives, cooperation between governments and civil society organizations, cooperation between various governments, initiatives by international organizations, and, finally, multi-stakeholder initiatives. What is noticeable is that some actors make an appearance in many of the different initiatives mentioned below, including the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, CIVICUS, Article 19, and ACT Alliance on the civil society side, as well as the development agencies of the United States—U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—and Sweden—Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)—on the state level. Furthermore, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association seems to function as a point of intersection between civil society and the state level within many initiatives. Most of the initiatives listed here focus on either advocacy, technical assistance to civil society organizations, or financial support in the form of general or emergency grants. Interestingly, many initiatives that focus on human rights support more generally existed well before 2010, when initiatives with a more concrete focus on closing space were launched. This indicates a growing assertiveness and success of “awareness-raising” strategies/initiatives such as the Stand with Civil Society initiative launched by former U.S. president Barack Obama. Finally, even though most of the initiatives in this overview are coordinated by civil society organizations, many of them are either in cooperation with governments or their respective development agencies or funded by states. Since information on funding is not provided by every initiative, it is not possible to give exact numbers. However, per the given information, only 5 initiatives are entirely civil society driven as opposed to 12 initiatives that are either state driven, state civil society cooperation, or entirely/partially funded by states.

[1] Thomas Carothers, “The Closing Space Challenge: How Are Funders Responding?,” November 2, 2015,; International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, “A Mapping of Existing Initiatives to Address Legal Constraints on Foreign Funding of Civil Society,” July 1, 2014,,%20July%202014.pdf.

Photo Credit: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

Jana Baldus

Peace Research Institute Frankfurt

Annika Elena Poppe

Peace Research Institute Frankfurt

Jonas Wolff

Peace Research Institute Frankfurt