The ability to seek, receive and utilize resources is an inherent part of the right to freedom of association. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement. By definition, organizations need resources – financial, human and material – to operate. Without money, staff and equipment, an association is reduced to an empty shell – a vehicle stripped of its engine, fuel and driver. Unfortunately, civil society’s ability to access resources is far from secure in today’s world. Restrictions on funding have in recent years become a major threat to associations in a range of countries across all regions of the world, as UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai has repeatedly pointed out.
There is clearly a trend toward strangling civil society with the financial noose, and the trend is growing. There is an urgent need to further strengthen associations’ ability to access resources, and to protect it.
In this spirit, the Special Rapporteur recently partnered with the Community of Democracies to launch a project dedicated to enhancing space for civil society, with a particular focus on the ability to access financial resources. More on the project – which is funded by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs— is available here.
The centerpiece of the project will be a series of five regional dialogues led by Maina Kiai. These dialogues will bring together members of local and regional civil society groups to hear what challenges they face, especially in the area of funding restrictions. During these dialogues, consultations will also be held with government officials, with the ultimate goal of expanding the body of knowledge on this subject, disseminating information on existing legislation, and enhancing protection at the domestic level of civil society’s right to freedom of association – and, in particular, access to funding.
Governments advance various reasons for restricting civil society’s access to resources. Some base them on anti-terrorism or money laundering concerns. Others invoke “state sovereignty,” implying that foreign funding to civil society is an instrument of neo-colonialism. Still others claim they must control civil society to ensure “aid effectiveness,” and to harmonize development initiatives.
What sort of restrictions on funding does civil society face in your country? What was the rationale advanced when these restrictions were introduced? What solutions do you propose?
We’re also interested in whether there is “sectoral equity” in your country. That is, are civil society groups and the private sector treated equitably? Is it easier to register a company than an NGO? Are there more operational and funding restrictions on civil society groups compared to businesses?
If you are comfortable making a public comment, you may do so using the form below (log-in is via Facebook, Yahoo or Hotmail). If you prefer to make a non-public comment, you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org Please be sure to provide as much detail as possible and to specify which country and laws you are referring to.