2017 CSO Sustainability Index for Asia


The 2017 CSO Sustainability Index for Asia evaluates the strength and viability of the CSO sectors in nine countries in South and Southeast Asia: Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. This is the first year that Burma was evaluated by the CSO Sustainability Index. Pakistan was previously evaluated as a stand-alone publication, most recently for the year 2015. This Index therefore assesses the sustainability of Pakistan’s CSO sector during both 2016 and 2017, providing separate scores for the two years.

This report finds that CSOs in the region continue to be greatly affected by the contexts in which they operate. Significant trends in 2017 affecting CSOs in the countries covered by this edition of the Index include:

  • CLOSING CIVIC SPACE – In 2017, CSOs worked amid a tide of closing civic space and increasingly restrictive environments, leading to deteriorating scores in legal environment, advocacy, and public image for the majority of the assessed countries. In Bangladesh, CSOs faced increasing harassment, surveillance, physical attacks, and death threats from state actors and fundamentalist groups. In Cambodia, the government dissolved the country’s only prominent opposition party and launched a major campaign against CSOs that it accused of being part of a revolutionary plot to overthrow the prime minister. The government of Indonesia issued a new regulation allowing it to dissolve CSOs that embrace, develop, and disseminate teachings that are contrary to the state ideology and the constitution. In Pakistan, CSOs faced increasing regulation of their access to foreign funding and threats to their registration status by local governments. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte continued to target critics of his policies, several of whom faced legal consequences; as a result, civil society was less active than in previous years. In Sri Lanka, there are concerns that the Sirisena presidency’s promise of democratic and human rights reform has stalled, particularly as the government has proposed restrictive legislation, such as a counter-terrorism law, that could be used to suppress CSO advocacy. Another concern is the increasing use of telecommunications and cybercrime laws against online activists in Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Thailand.
  • SECURITY DEVELOPMENTS – CSOs in several countries continued to operate in the face of conflicts that affected donor funding levels. In the Philippines, a five-month-long conflict, the Marawi siege, erupted on the island of Mindanao between security forces and militants inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), leading to declaration of martial law on Mindanao, a heightened military presence, and the displacement of more than 366,000 people from their com munities. Donor interest in peace building in Mindanao resulted in pledges of $3.17 billion for Marawi’s recovery, and local and national level CSOs were actively involved in relief and recovery efforts during the year. Long-standing conflict in the Deep South of Thailand between Buddhist-Thai nationalists and Muslim-Malay separatists led to the deaths of more than 200 people in 2017. The conflict continued to drive funding to the region in 2017, including new government funding. At the same time, CSOs in the Deep South or working on issues related to the conflict continue to be targets of state surveillance, investigations, or prosecutions. Meanwhile, the security situation in Pakistan markedly improved with significant drops in terrorist activities, resulting in declines in foreign funding.
  • HUMANITARIAN DISASTERS – Humanitarian disasters also affected several countries in the region, attracting donor funding and mobilizing CSO service provision. Nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees (a minority Muslim ethnic group from Burma) fled to Bangladesh. An influx of donor funding was provided to address the needs of the Rohingya. However, these funds went primarily to international CSOs and UN organizations. Meanwhile, service provision by domestic CSOs declined because donor funding shifted away from other services to those organized for the Rohingya. In several other countries, including Burma, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, CSOs played a critical role in natural disaster response and rebuilding in 2017. For example, CSOs in Burma responded to devastating monsoon rains that displaced 320,000 people by raising funds, delivering humanitarian aid, collaborating with the government, and setting up evacuation centers. In Sri Lanka, national and local level CSOs responded to floods in the southwestern part of the countr y that affected over 600,000 people and to a drought that impacted nearly 2 million people.

Last updated: April 12, 2019

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