Protecting NGO Space: Overview
Civic space allows local civil society organizations and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) to provide basic services such as healthcare, food, and water to poor and marginalized people; rapidly mobilize and save lives after a natural disaster or during a violent conflict; and help build strong governments, healthcare systems, schools, and other institutions needed to advance human wellbeing.
Today, governments, and in some cases violent extremist groups throughout the world, are cracking down on this much-needed space. In many countries, both governments and extremist groups are displaying a blatant disregard for International Humanitarian Law in war zones. Governments are implementing counterterrorism laws that harm NGO operations, and restricting the ability for civil society to receive the funding needed to provide emergency aid. Additionally, many governments that view civil society as a threat are increasingly restricting or attacking INGOs that support their country’s local civil society organizations.
InterAction and its partners have pushed back and are continuing to fight against these harmful restrictions. During the 2011 famine in Somalia, InterAction helped U.S. NGOs secure licenses that allowed them to access previously blocked areas and deliver urgently needed food to hundreds of people affected by the famine. In 2013, with the leadership of InterAction, NGOs scored a major legal victory when the Supreme Court ruled that a USAID policy requirement infringed on U.S. NGOs’ right to free speech.
Currently, InterAction and its members are working to defend and strengthen civil society space by strongly encouraging governments to abide by international laws that allow humanitarian organizations to operate in dangerous areas; by advocating against counterterrorism policies that inadvertently harm NGO operations; and by continuing to monitor and speak out against policies and practices that restrict the ability of civil society organizations to save lives and help build sustainable communities worldwide.