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The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 6, Issue 3, June 2004

A publication of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor

Accountability and Transparency

Introduction--Coming Clean: Civil Society Organizations at a Time of Global Uncertainty
Kumi Naidoo

International Humanitarianism: The Dark Sides
David Kennedy

On the Issue of Trust
H. Peter Karoff

Fostering Accountability in Zimbabwean Civil Society
Ignatius Adeh

Canadian Federal Budget Increases Transparency for Charities
Robert B. Hayhoe

The Crisis Facing Associations and Other Nonprofits in the United States
John H. Graham IV

Articles

Charities and Compliance with Anti-Terrorism Legislation in Canada: The Shadow of the Law
Terrance S. Carter

Corporate Philanthropy and Law in the United States: A Practical Guide to Tax Choices and an Introduction to Compliance with Anti-Terrorism Laws
Thomas Silk

Legal Mechanisms for NGO-Government Partnership in Ukraine
Alexander Vinnikov

The State-Civil Society Relationship in Kazakhstan: Mechanisms of Cooperation and Support
Vsevolod Ovcharenko

Comment: Defining Civil Society
Miguel Angel Itriago

Reviews

BETTER TOGETHER: Restoring the American Community
By Robert D. Putnam and Lewis M. Feldstein
And
THE GREATER GOOD: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism
By Claire Gaudiani
Reviewed by Michael Edwards

A VOICE FOR NONPROFITS
By Jeffrey M. Berry with David F. Arons
Reviewed by Michael Bisesi

THE GOVERNANCE OF NOT-FOR-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS
Edited by Edward L. Glaeser
Reviewed by Peter Frumkin

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Editorial Board

Introduction--Coming Clean: Civil Society Organizations at a Time of Global Uncertainty

By Kumi Naidoo*

Democracy, freedom, and nation-building by free citizens: these appear to be under threat by the actions of some of our oldest democracies. Civil society’s space is being squeezed and must be restored. At the same time, civil society organizations are increasingly being asked to "come clean" through accountability and transparency initiatives.

The world community has watched the occupation of Iraq with mounting disbelief and horror. This has stemmed not just from concerns about the immediate consequences of war for the Iraqi population and the further inflammation of the Middle East, but also from a belief that the situation in Iraq is symptomatic of a larger global crisis, one that holds immense implications for human rights, civil liberties, social and economic development, and civil society.

The context that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are operating in is dominated by the growing militarization of geopolitics: certain powerful states are willing to resort to aggressive means to promote their interests, effectively bypassing and undermining established mechanisms for the multilateral resolution of conflicts. We also see the mobilization of violence in the form of terrorist attacks, such as those undertaken on September 11, 2001; the intensification of military conflict; and the merging of fundamentalist and secular nationalist causes. Taken together, these trends threaten to squeeze the space for civil society and undermine the robustness of democracy and civic participation worldwide.

This danger is particularly alarming against a post-Cold War backdrop, a mere 10 years after the promise of a “peace dividend” was realized through a series of citizen revolutions in countries around the world, from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to my own South Africa. A decade later this peace dividend has all but disappeared. What are the implications for civil society?

It has become something of a truism that the attacks of September 11 changed the face of the world as we know it. Terrorism is, of course, a threat to democracy and must be resisted by all nations. Yet all countries also have a duty not to imitate such violence and not to institute measures that undermine democracy, and certainly not to engage in actions that in fact fuel terrorism. If we shirk this duty, how can those struggling to build free and democratic societies embrace notions of human rights, justice, and equality.

With this in mind, I would argue that the events that followed the September 11 attacks have been more consequential than the attacks themselves. In a remarkably short time, we have witnessed a clear shift toward unilateral action and militarization as well as the undermining of human rights and civil liberties by some of our oldest democracies. This may sound all too polemic, especially in light of the horrendous terrorist acts committed in New York, Madrid, Moscow, Bali, Palestine, Israel, Kenya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so many other places the world over. These atrocities only deepen the erosion of global stability and human security.

Herein lies the crux of what is increasingly called the "democracy deficit." Decisions affecting the lives and well-being of people around the world increasingly lie with supranational organizations not directly accountable to those people and not accessible to citizens' voices. Decisions involving the "war on terror" are made behind closed doors in ways largely perceived as undemocratic. Regarding Iraq, some governments blatantly disregarded the views of their backbench lawmakers and citizens in order to support a war that could provoke a devastating humanitarian crisis and polarize the world’s peoples even further.

Democratic governments by definition must be accountable to their citizens—we should own governments. At the same time, the notion that foreign governments can impose democracy on a country demands reflection. Can democracy be sustained without the active involvement and support of citizens engaged in their communities and helping to determine their own future?

The "democracy deficit" notwithstanding, global civil society has proved robust, diverse, responsive, and highly creative. As governments made clear their intention to choose war over discourse and consensual approaches, millions upon millions of citizens protested under the banner "Not in My Name." The massive protest signaled declining levels of citizen trust in political institutions and represented a move toward new forms of participation. As the historic anti-war demonstrations of February 15, 2003, which moved The New York Times to declare that global civil society is the world's second superpower, advocated, it is not up to one country and its allies to act as global policemen. The threats of terrorism are real, but they are threats to all citizens in all societies.

While it is natural that many people and organizations came together to oppose war, we must take this further and think critically about the long-term viability of civil society. Civil society organizations have historically played a crucial role in promoting transparency, legitimacy, and accountability within government and business, with many positive results. It is perhaps inevitable, therefore, that some government and business leaders have grown anxious about the impact of civil society advocacy. They have questioned the legitimacy of CSOs in public life generally and in social advocacy in particular. Their argument is that unlike elected governments that derive their legitimacy from the electorate, and unlike business leaders who are at least accountable to their shareholders or the bottom line, CSO workers are largely self-appointed “do-gooders” accountable only to themselves. As a result, civil society organizations, particularly those involved in advocacy work, are coming under increased pressure to improve their transparency and accountability.

The "war on terror" brings a new dimension. Many CSOs, particularly those operating in situations of chronic political instability, are increasingly being asked to account for their actions and prove that they have no links with “terrorism.” This has been seen in Palestine, where CSOs face a huge challenge to dispel links with the loosely defined term “terrorism.” The levels of control imposed over registration, management, and funding of CSOs are often more limiting than enabling. American funding has been withdrawn from many CSOs operating in Palestine because they could not prove they have no links with "terrorism." To combat this problem, one would normally expect new accountability mechanisms over CSOs' internal practices as well as their external relations with those constituencies with which they interface on an ongoing basis. However, how will this work when “terrorism” is so ill-defined?

CSO leaders in different parts of the world want to show that they are not shy about accountability and that they are prepared to take the lead to develop effective mechanisms for promoting accountability. They realize that critics would use any deficiencies in CSOs' individual and collective governance and performance to question the role of civil society, not so much at the micro or operational level but at the macro or governance level as well as the meso or policy level. Ironically, it is governance and policy interventions  where CSO participation is most desperately needed.

In seeking to improve our accountability and transparency, we need not be defensive or apologize for our work. In fact, several CSOs have encouraged elected governments not to interpret a victory at the ballot box as a blank check to rule without ongoing reference to their citizenry between elections. This is especially true in the growing number of countries where large numbers of citizens are turning away from the formal electoral process. In such respects, CSOs are doing much to promote democratic accountability.

The growing militarization of geopolitics has changed the context in which CSOs operate. Civil society is being squeezed, which undermines the robustness of democracy and civic participation worldwide. Trends toward unilateral action and militarization are undermining human rights and civil liberties. The democracy deficit erodes global stability and human security while threatening the ability of citizens to participate in decision-making. Together, these factors confront CSOs with new challenges: not only reinventing democracy, but also reinventing themselves in ways that are transparent and accountable. In doing so, there is a vital need to look beyond the "war on terror" and think critically about long-term viability, especially when some government and business leaders are questioning the legitimacy of CSOs, and when CSOs operating in new conditions of political instability are increasingly being asked to be transparent, legitimate, and accountable.

Civil society organizations must meet this challenge head on by making themselves more accountable and transparent. Maintaining public trust in CSOs is critical for ensuring active, participatory democracy, which can enrich our public life at the national and global levels. Moreover, failure to improve accountability and transparency will invite criticism that CSOs don’t practice what they preach.

Notes

* Kumi Naidoo is Secretary General and CEO of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

 

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