The Defending Civil Society project is an ongoing effort to develop strategies and build solidarity among activists and groups seeking to reform repressive laws targeting civil society work.

Civil society organizations, such as nongovernmental organizations, charities, faith-based organizations, and advocacy groups, are essential elements in fully functioning democracies. These groups increasingly face legal restrictions imposed by many anti-democratic governments.

Goals of the Project

  • To enhance the space within which CSOs carry out their work
  • To help CSOs in their efforts to reform legislation that violates international principles; and
  • To inform proper government-civil society relations


  • Organize discussions to develop practical strategies to improve legal environments
  • Facilitate coordinated global responses to restrictive legal measures
  • Hold workshops to build the capacity of civil society organizations to respond to legal restrictions


In 2012, the World Movement for Democracy and the International Center for Not-for Profit Law published the second edition of the Defending Civil Society Report, which articulates long-standing, widely accepted international principles to protect civil society and provides examples of the ways legal restrictions are imposed on civil society groups worldwide. 

The Report is available digitally in five languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, FrenchRussian, and Spanish).

This web interactive allows you to explore 14 countries whose governments have violated at least one of those principles. Click on a country to read more about the laws or other measures targeting civil society work.


The Toolkit is an online resource that provides tips, tools, and strategies for organizations and activists around the world on how to engage in the NGO law reform process. This Toolkit contains information on understanding and assessing the legal environment, building a CSO coalition, and engaging government, legislators, the diplomatic community, and the media. The content for the Toolkit was developed with input from hundreds of civil society representatives in over 40 countries who were asked to share their knowledge and experiences. 

Call for Democratic Renewal (Translations Available)

Read the Steering Committee Statement "A Call for Democratic Renewal"