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Global Study on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism Measures on Civil Society and Civic Space


The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, will bring together Member States, civil society, the United Nations and other stakeholders during the Third United Nations Counter-Terrorism Week to launch the Global Study on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism on Civil Society & Civic Space. The side event is co-sponsored by the Federal Republic of Germany, the Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations, Friedreich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation (NY), and civil society coalitions including the CSO Coalition on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, the Security Policy Alternatives Network, and the Global NPO Coalition on FATF.  

The Global Study will be available online here:

Background on the Global Study

The Global Study centers the daily, lived experiences for civil society from across the globe operating amidst closing civic space and the widespread misuse of counter-terrorism and preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) measures to restrict their exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms and curb their legitimate activities. The Study builds from the ground-up in the collection and collation of data driven by civil society, including through a participatory, civil society-engaged-and-led process—comprising 13 civil society consultations across regions, 108 written inputs, including 76 by civil society, and 2 civil society surveys—alongside a commitment to mainstream gender equality and women’s rights from its inception. 

The goals of the Global Study are three-fold:

  1. To amplify the far-reaching and diverse evidence and findings of local, national, regional, and international civil society organizations, UN entities, and other sources on the impacts of counter-terrorism and P/CVE measures on civil society and civic space— and link them together into a comprehensive evidence base;
  2. To identify the challenges as well as progress made on the meaningful participation and leadership of civil society in efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism at the local, national, regional, and international levels; and
  3. To provide insights and recommendations to Member States, the UN, and other stakeholders on how counter-terrorism and P/CVE programming and practice can integrate stronger human rights due diligence safeguards to foster participatory, inclusive, and vibrant civic space in compliance with international law in direct response to the concrete challenges faced by civil society today.

For decades, civil society organizations and UN human rights mechanisms have communicated the persistence and challenge of the misuse of counter-terrorism and P/CVE measures, but in truth such information has remained at the margins of counter-terrorism and security conversations. Previous data points have been dismissed and argued to be a ‘bad-apple’ problem, not a systemic association of counter-terrorism measures with the abuse of human rights and evidenced costs to civil society. The Study is intended to bring together the vast research and evidence bases on the interface of counter-terrorism and P/CVE practice with civil society and civic space, and to draw normative and policy conclusions and recommendations from that collective evidence.

The Study is grounded in recognizing the enormous benefits that an active, diverse, functional, and vibrant civil society brings to communities and societies. Societies where civil society is absent, afraid, cowed, unable to emerge are societies made weaker, less participatory, and vulnerable to the conditions conducive to terrorism and violence. Despite the virtues and benefits of fostering civil society and the civic space that accompanies it, both have experienced significant challenges across the globe in recent decades. The Study provides a comprehensive assessment of these co-relational trends and seeks to understand the full consequences of increasingly layered and cumulative counter-terrorism and P/CVE measures and practices, including the compounded effects when such measures are experienced together or sequentially by civil society actors. The Study also demonstrates the resilience, capacity, and innovation of civil society and their myriad contributions to societies premised on the dignity and equality of the human person despite the immense pressures they face.

Call for Inputs

Global Study on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism Measures on Civil Society and Civic Space
Deadline: 31 December 2022

Background work on the Global Study undertaken by the Special Rapporteur


Civil Society Workshop in Advance of the High-Level International Conference on Human Rights, Civil Society and Counter-Terrorism, 9 May 2022

The Civil Society Workshop included over 90 civil society organisations in-person and online and was preceded by a month-long series of global and regional virtual consultations with civil society from 43 countries and five continents carried out by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism and the Kingdom of Spain. The document includes the logos and endorsement of 70+ civil society organisations that contributed to findings and recommendations.


Defending Human Rights while Countering Terrorism

This video provides a snapshot of the ongoing work and priorities of Fionnuala Ní Aoláin in her capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. The Special Rapporteur is dedicated to providing support, technical assistance, and expertise to States, UN entities, civil society, and other relevant stakeholders. The mandate was created in the aftermath of the counter-terrorism responses to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and recognizes the growth of national, regional, and global counter-terrorism measures and the potential negative impact of such measures on human rights and fundamental freedoms. The film was created by Hunter N.

Recent Communications and Legislative Comments about the misuse of counter-terrorism measures against civil society

Israel: OL ISR 6/2022
Nicaragua: OL NIC 1/2022
USA: AL USA 8/2022
Kazakhstan: AL KAZ 1/2022
Tunisia: OL TUN 4/2022
Venezuela: OL VEN 8/2021
Thailand: OL THA 7/2021
Zimbabwe: OL ZWE 3/2021
India: UA IND 19/2021
Egypt: AL EGY 6/2021
Brazil: OL BRA 6/2021
Belarus: OL BLR 2/2021
Turkey: OL TUR 3/2021
China: OL CHN 13/2020
Serbia: AL SRB 3/2020
Pakistan: OL PAK 10/2019

UN Reports

A/HRC/40/52: Impact of measures to address terrorism and violent extremism on civic space and the rights of civil society actors and human rights defenders, 1 March 2019

Other Reports

The Role of Measures to Address Terrorism and Violent Extremism on Closing Civic Space (2019)

The Impact of “Soft Law” and Informal Standard-Setting in the Area of Counter-Terrorism on Civil Society and Civic Space (2020)


Statement by the Special Rapporteur at the HRC49 Side Event “Terrorizing Human Rights Defenders: Counter-Terrorism as a Tool of Repression in the MENA Region” (Hosted by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies), 10 March 2022

Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism at the 49th session of the Human Rights Council, 15 March 2022

Remarks of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism at the Informal Counter-Terrorism Committee convening hosted by Tunisia, 16 December 2021

Recent Press Statements

Israel/Palestine: UN experts call on governments to resume funding for six Palestinian CSOs designated by Israel as ‘terrorist organisations’, 25 April 2022

Kazakhstan: UN experts condemn lethal force against protesters, misuse of term ‘terrorists’, 11 January 2022

UN experts urge release of rights defenders in Egypt, condemn misuse of counter-terrorism measures, 1 December 2021

UN expert calls on States to end counter-terrorism policies and practices that harm women, girls and family, 4 March 2021

UN experts call for removal of rights defenders Ramy Shaath and Zyad El-Elaimy from ‘terrorism entities’ list, 11 February 2021

Philippines: Drop murder charge against indigenous rights defender, UN experts urge, 28 January 2021

UN Experts: Venezuela must stop attacks against civil society, 18 December 2020

Serbia’s anti-terrorism laws being misused to target and curb work of NGOs, UN human rights experts warn, 11 November 2020