CLAIMING BACK CIVIC SPACE: Towards approaches fit for the 2020s?


CLAIMING BACK CIVIC SPACE: Towards approaches fit for the 2020s?

Closing civil society space is a growing trend, impacting civic actors in countries throughout the world, with an alarming rise in restrictions placed on civil society’s ability to operate.  The trend has encompassed a range or repressive measures by governments or society, from constraints on freedom of assembly to imposing limitations on NGOs funding or operations, from legal means to illegal violent measures.

The Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation, together with, 11.11.11 – The Coalition of the Flemish North South Movement and CNCD-11.11.11 (umbrella organizations of CSO organisations in Belgium) and ECDPM organized on 17 December 2019 in Brussels a seminar to discuss on the subject with a group of experts, donors, civil society representatives and researchers.


Mr. Maina Kiai


8h30 Registration
9h Welcome & introduction by DGD Deputy Director Sophie de Groote 
9h10 Practical issues by Mr. Koen Van Acoleyen, DGD
9h15 Presentation of the study by European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), a study asked for by DGD
Title study: “Claiming back civic space: Towards a whole-of-society policy against shrinking space of CSO in the world”
Speaker: Mr. Jean Bossuyt, ECDPM
10h Panel Discussion on “How to respond to global 'conflicting spaces' for civic engagement?”

What changes have taken place in recent years in the way we look at and deal with the phenomenon of closing civic space?

Mr. Samer Daoudi (PNGO), Mrs. Ana Fernandes (OECD – DAC),Mr. Pieter-Jan Hamels (11.11.11), Mr. Thomas Nikolaj Hansen (MFA, Denmark), Mrs. Caroline Hickson (IPPF)

Mr. Geert Laporte, ECDPM
11h20 Break
11h35 Breakaway sessions* on

1) Fragile contexts: Speakers: Mr. Julien Deroy (ex-Join for Water, Haïti), Mrs. Nasra Ismail (Somalia NGO Consortium), Mr. Uzziel Twagilimana (WSM, several African contexts), Mr. Tomas Van Acker (UGent, Burundi) Moderator: Mr. Martin Ronceray (ECDPM) 

2) Conflict contexts: Speakers: Mr. Itay Epshtain (NRC, Palestine), Mr. Hozan Ibrahim (IMPACT - Civil Society Research and Development, Syria), Mr. Shoqi al-Maktary (Search for Common Ground, Yemen) Moderator: Nathalie Janne (CNCD - 11.11.11)

3) Deteriorating contexts: Speakers: Mr. Ramón Muñoz Castro (RIDH, Nicaragua), Mrs. Veruska Nieto Borja (Vivos, Colombia), Mr. Antonio Tujan (Ibon International, Philippines) Moderator: Mr. Mauricio Angel Morales (Protection International)

What are the specific features of the conflicting spaces for civic engagement in the given context? How do you respond to them?

12h50 Networking lunch
14h Reporting back from the 3 breakaway sessions – Moderators + Mr. Koen Van Acoleyen
14h15 Panel Discussion on “Civic space in the digital era”

What are recent trends in the use of digital tools to attack but as well in order to protect civic space?

Mrs. Marian Cramers (The Democratic Society), Mrs. Camille Gervais (Front Line Defenders), Mrs. Aurore Guieu (Oxfam Solidarité)

Mr. Koen Van Acoleyen, DGD
15h30 Break
15h45 Panel Discussion on “Looking forward: How to improve our collective action capacity to shrinking space?”

What can be defined as common core priorities for the next years as well as innovative ways to work together in a “whole-of-society approach”?

Mr. Maina Kiai (HRW, ex- UN Special rapporteur on rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly), Mr. Jelmer Kamstra (MFA, The Netherlands), Mrs. Barbara Oosters (Oxfam - NOVIB), Mr. Ignacio Packer (ICVA), Mr. Dominic Perera (CIVICUS), Mrs. Jacqueline Wood (OECD-DAC)

Mr. Jean Bossuyt, ECDPM
17h Last words by Mrs. Hilde Herssens, DGD



You can find photos of the conference here.




 Literature on "shrinking space" (PDF, 279.61 KB)

In case of more specific questions concerning this conference, please contact the organizers at DGD on