The Right to Receive Funding

The right of citizens to form associations and receive funding to pursue their missions is enshrined in international human rights law. Yet over 160 laws in nearly 70 countries have been passed to restrict this right since 2012 (ICNL). These laws severely constrain the ability of CSOs to implement programs that serve their communities and ultimately threaten their sustainability.

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Click the picture to view the infographic in English.
Click the picture to view the infographic in English.

Restrictions on civil society’s ability to access funding are not limited to specific laws, but can be disguised in administrative provisions and practices or extralegal activities coordinated by governments against independent CSOs. Governments often target CSOs that receive international funding by publicly accusing them of being “foreign agents” or corrupt. They place burdensome restrictions on banks and insurers to discourage them from providing services to CSO that receive funding, or place travel restrictions on CSO employees. They may also encourage pro-government groups and media outlets to harass or slander CSOs that receive international funding from legal sources. This site offers a set of tools to help activists protect their right to access resources.





At the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2023, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Clément Voule, presented his General Principles and Guidelines on Ensuring the Right of Civil Society Organizations to Have Access to Resources. These guidelines reiterate that the right to access resources is an essential component of the right to freedom of association.

The guidelines provide practical recommendations and positive actions aimed at creating and maintaining, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for the enjoyment of civil society organizations’ right to access resources. They help UN member states and donor agencies implement the recommendations outlined in the Special Rapporteur’s 2022 annual report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/50/42 – highlighted below), which examined global trends and challenges threatening civil society’s access to financial resources. Learn more about the guidelines here.

Watch Enabling Civic Space: Guidelines to Promote the Right to Access Funding.

On June 30, 2023, the World Movement for Democracy organized a public event in Geneva, bringing human rights and civil society organizations together to discuss how to strengthen international human rights norms to protect civil society’s right to access funding. The discussion highlighted:

  • Current challenges to the rights to access funding, including the rise in legislation that consider foreign support for civil society organizations as interference in national issues and justify restrictions on funding as part of measures against terrorism and money laundering.
  • The recent draft legislation introduced by the Kyrgyzstan government, which would require civil society organizations that receive foreign funding to register as performing the function of a foreign representative. The draft legislation also introduces burdensome reporting mechanisms, which will effectively force many civil society organizations, especially small and community-based ones, to close.
  • The experience of civil society in Uganda, where the government has used the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF)’s regulations to pass laws that suppress civic space. These laws have enabled the government to freeze organizations’ bank accounts and arrest some non-profit leaders.
  • FATF’s new risk-based approach that encourages governments to assess their own vulnerabilities during their country assessment in the non-profit sector in collaboration with civil society.
  • FATF’s works with civil society organizations to combat the unintended consequences of their recommendations. The FATF invites NPOs to provide inputs to assist the assessment teams in upcoming mutual evaluations. You can find the latest information on ongoing and future mutual evaluations on the Global Assessment calendar.



Ketevan (Kate) Chachava is a Steering Committee Member of the World Movement for Democracy. Ms. Chachava is a civic activist from Georgia. She is the executive director & founder of the Tbilisi-based Center for Development and Democracy (CDD).

Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, a national of Togo, was appointed as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association and took up his functions in April 2018. Prior to his appointment, he led the International Service for Human Rights to support human rights defenders from States in transition and coordinated the organization’s work in Africa as the Advocacy Director. Mr. Voule also worked as Secretary-General of the Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, as a campaigner for the Togolese Coalition for the International Criminal Court, and as Secretary-General of the Amnesty International section in Togo.

Nicholas Opiyo is a leading human rights lawyer and founder of Chapter Four Uganda, an organization that provides research, advocacy, and outreach services to influence laws, policies, and practices in the interest of civil liberties and human rights. Since 2005, Mr. Opiyo has worked tirelessly to promote civil liberties and human rights in Uganda. In his practice, he has a diverse clientele, including anti-corruption and pro-democracy activists, and social media activists charged with offending the president.

Ubysheva Erkingul is the Director of the Smart Zharan Association, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Her expertise includes Advocacy, Coalition building, NGO organizational development, monitoring & evaluation, Policy advising, civil society development, and strategic planning. She previously served as a Board member of the Soros Foundation – Kyrgyzstan was a member of the UN Civil Society Advisory Board.

Claire Leger is an Anti-Money Laundering / Countering Terrorism Financing analyst at the Secretariat of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). She has coordinated the FATF project on combating the abuse of NPOs and has been involved in the Mutual Evaluation of Indonesia. Prior, she worked as an Anti-corruption Analyst at the OECD, assisting the Working Group on Bribery and the Network of Economic Regulators. She holds a PhD in Law and Economics and was admitted to the Paris Bar.

Emile van der Does is the coordinator for the Stolen Asset Recovery initiative, a joint World Bank/ UN Office on Drugs and Crime team to assist countries recovering proceeds of corruption, conduct research, and ensure this topic remains high on the international policy agenda. He has authored several publications on Anti-Money Laundering, Countering Terrorism financing, and anti-corruption including supervision of its obligations, the abuse of non-profits for terrorism financing, and civil claims to recoup the proceeds of corruption. Previously he worked for the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and in private practice, specializing in banking and securities law.

This event was co-sponsored by The United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, World Movement for Democracy, ARTICLE 19, Asia Democracy Network, CIVICUS, DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), European Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, and Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy.


In June 2022, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Clément Voule, presented a report on Access to Resources to the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council. Following meetings with civil society representatives, States, regulatory bodies, and advocacy groups, the report on Access to Resources establishes a “right” of civil society organizations (CSOs) to seek, access, and secure financial resources that are critical for people to fully enjoy their freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

The report finds that in recent years an increasing number of states have adopted or amended laws and regulations constraining the right of CSOs to access foreign funding. These measures have imposed strict requirements for CSOs to access and use foreign funding, increased administrative burdens, and created harsher penalties for non-compliance. The Special Rapporteur reiterates that reporting requirements of an association receiving foreign funding should be made as simple and transparent as possible, and must not place excessive or costly burdens on the association. Associations promoting human rights and democratic reforms have been targeted, and in many cases legally required to accept the label of “foreign agents” as a condition for continuing to operate and receive crucial funding.

The report provides a number of recommendations to CSOs, states, and regulatory bodies, including the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF), easing the measures, policies, and procedures for the legal functioning of civil society organizations. Key recommendations include:

  • For states to ensure that regulations on funding for CSOs comply with international human rights standards, repealing laws that do not comply with these standards.
  • For the FATF to set human rights benchmarking in their recommendations to ensure that states cannot use FATF recommendations to stifle the work of civil society.
  • For donors to consult with diverse groups of civil society actors to better understand the needs for resources and the impact of funding.

Read the full report HERE.


In its July 2021 meeting, the UN’s Human Rights Council passed a new resolution recognizing civil society’s right to receive funding. Included in its “A/HRC/47/L.1: Resolution on COVID-19: the Road to Recovery and the Essential Role of Civil Society,” the Human Rights Council calls out this right as one of many that need protecting during the challenges of the pandemic.

The World Movement was happy to participate in those discussions and advocate for the inclusion of the right to receive funding. With this resolution, civil society now has another tool to protect this right.

Read the resolution here.


Watch our Steering Committee member Hassan Shire discuss General Comment #37 on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly with UN Expert Christof Heyns. Read the General Comment here.




While it is important to raise awareness about government actions that restrict civic spaces and civil liberties, it’s also important to highlight countries where civil society has successfully advocated for their freedoms and their right to receive funding. We recently held an online discussion with activists from Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Guatemala to talk about the threats they faced and how these successes were achieved. You can also learn more about these civil society success stories by reading the below three cases studies.

Watch this discussion with activists here:


On July 29, 2020 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published General Comment #37 on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which protects the right to peaceful assembly. Article 33 within the General Comment affirms the right of activists and civil society organizations to receive resources to support their work. General Comments are official UN interpretations of provisions in binding international human rights laws, making Article 33 of the General Comment the strongest international mechanism yet for protecting civil society’s right to receive funding.

Read the General Comment here.



In July 2017, the World Movement surveyed civil society activists around the world about their ability to access funding. The survey considered restrictions governments place on CSOs’ right to access funding, and strategies activists used to defend this right. The following case studies are organized according to the strategies activists used. Click through the panels to discover how and where civil society uses these strategies!

View All Case Studies ›

Conducting public outreach


Conducting public outreach

CSOs have leveraged public support for their work protecting the right to access funding. Reaching out to the public to foster general awareness about the importance of CSOs' work has helped activists defend their right to access funding in several countries.

Establishing NGO and CSO coalitions


Establishing NGO and CSO coalitions

Members of civil society have established NGO and CSO coalitions to build solidarity. Coalitions serve as platforms to develop a uniform understanding of, and strategies to protect, CSOs’ legal right to access funding.

Pursuing litigation and/or legal analysis


Pursuing litigation and/or legal analysis

CSOs have taken legal action to protect their right to access funding by appealing to national and regional courts. Litigation has established a formal expectation of governments to respect civil society's rights.

Interacting with government and politicians


Interacting with government and politicians

To protect their right to access funding, members of civil society have maintained ongoing relationships with government officials and politicians. CSOs have effectively used these relationships influenced policy decisions.

Working with donors and diplomatic community


Working with donors and diplomatic community

International donors and the diplomatic community can influence national governments. Civil society sometimes seeks support from these communities to pressure their governments to ease restrictions on the right to access funding.

Working with multilateral institutions


Working with multilateral institutions

Multilateral institutions (MIs) can influence governments and facilitate dialogue with civil society. CSOs have shared information about barriers they face in trying to accessing funding with MIs, which are sometimes able to raise their concerns with governments.

Using alternative resource streams


Using alternative resource streams

When repressive governments restrict access to funding, civil society is often forced to seek alternative resources. Leveraging volunteers and potential revenue building activities has helped CSOs continue their work in restrictive legal environments.

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Donors support civil society because of its potential to promote good governance and equitable development. Yet, donor support has had mixed results due to persistent challenges, including sector resilience, short term partnerships, legitimacy, donor oversight, and government restrictions. Watch below for strategies to overcome these challenges.



Watch activists discuss restrictions on their right to receive funding and the wider implications it poses for civil society.

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly & Association, Clement Voule, outlines key principles to protect human rights as governments draft responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes civil societies right to receive funding. Read his full statement here.

President of the Moroccan Housewives Association describes the right to access resources and its importance in allowing CSOs to provide services to citizens that governments are sometimes unable to deliver.

Radio Horytna’s story about Case 173 in Egypt, also known as the “case on foreign funding of civil society,” in which activists explain the importance of civil society and its ability to receive foreign and domestic funding.

News & Alerts

August 17, 2020

The World Movement Congratulates UN Human Rights Committee on General Comment 37

The World Movement and other civil society organizations including those involved in the Civic Space Initiative (CSI) released a joint statement to congratulate the UN Human Rights Committee on the issuance of its landmark guidance on the right of peaceful assembly: General Comment No. 37 on Article 21 of the ICCPR. General Comment No. 37 […]

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August 17, 2020

UN Human Rights Committee Affirms Civil Society’s Right to Receive Funding!

On July 29, 2020 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which protects the right to peaceful assembly. Among strengthening international law on a variety of issues related to assemblies, the […]

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