Legal Frameworks and Political Space for Non-Governmental Organisations: An Overview of Six Countries

The EADI Policy Paper Series, Legal Frameworks and Political Space for Non-Governmental Organisations: An Overview of Six Countries, is motivated by growing concern over the ability of civil society to fulfil its core functions, especially in the areas of governance and human rights. The past decade has seen diverse trends; new spaces and enabling environments have opened up for civil society in some contexts, but shrunk in other contexts. Civil society actors have increasingly been recognized as significant actors in global processes. For example, the Busan Partnership for Development Effectiveness stresses the need for enabling environments to be created for civil society organisations (CSOs).

At the same time, civil society freedoms have been restricted in a number of countries by new legal initiatives. This tendency has been justified partly by the post-2001 security agenda, and partly by the interests of repressive regimes. The case studies examine Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia and Uganda in order to look deeper into these trends in a variety of societal contexts:

• Bangladesh has a massive, primarily service-oriented NGO sector dominated by mega-NGOs and foreign-funded NGOs. The legal framework is generally weak, and many NGOs suffer from poor governance. Civil society space is constrained by two dominant political parties which are suspicious of NGOs entering the political arena, and there have been some cases of harassment of NGOs working on human rights or governance issues.

• Ethiopia has recently introduced new legislation which restricts foreign funding for NGOs, and in practice has narrowed the space of human rights NGOs. The new legislation has particularly affected international and large NGOs based in the capital; at the sub-national level there is more flexibility for local civil society to operate.

• In Kyrgyzstan the space for civil society has stabilised since the political crisis of 2010. The legal position and rights of NGOs are respected under the new constitution and the post-2010 period has seen the emergence of more locally-embedded CSOs. The main challenges are the capacity of CSOs as external aid declines and distrust within the sector.

• In Honduras, the legal framework is supportive of participation in governance processes. However, civil society is highly polarized and freedom of expression is suppressed.

• For Serbia, EU accession requirements encouraged significant progress in creating a comprehensive legal framework for CSOs. However, human rights CSOs are becoming more vulnerable, including to attack from extremist groups, with the government doing little to protect their freedom. Problems are also resulting from a reduction in foreign funding.

• In Uganda, NGOs are significant in service delivery and reconciliation work. The constitution assures rights for civil society action, but the legal and political environment has become more restrictive in recent years.

Read more at INTRAC.

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