ICNL-Cordaid Civil Liberties Awards


The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 10, Issue 3, June 2008

Douglas Rutzen
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

In November, many of us were introduced to a new image of public protest. It was a photograph from Pakistan—a man in a black suit wearing dark-rimmed glasses, his tie still taut, his jacket buttoned at midriff. He wears the uniform of his profession—a lawyer. In his right hand, he holds a tear gas canister, which he is throwing back at police. Capturing the moment, headlines roared, “At War with the Law.”

It’s a remarkable image. If lawyers confront the police, they generally opt for words softly spoken, armed with facts, laws, and reason. But we’re witnessing a contest over civil space around the world—with lawyers and law on the front lines.

In some countries, governments have undertaken a frontal assault on the law. In others, governments seek to co-opt the law. They enact laws violating human rights, embrace legal opinions justifying torture, and impose sanctions for violations of Kafkaesque legal requirements. Governments then present the antiseptic argument that their actions are not an affront to civil liberties, but rather demonstrate their adherence to the “rule of law.”

History demonstrates the perils of this approach. Whether we are speaking about apartheid-era legislation in South Africa or the Nuremburg Laws in Germany, legislation can as easily trample rights as protect them. The rule of law must supplemented by the rule of justice, human rights, and human dignity. Otherwise, law converts from shield to sword, undercutting civil society.

Unfortunately, the legislative backlash against civil society seems to be gaining momentum. In the past few years, more than forty countries have introduced or enacted legislation constricting civil society. Justifications are often presented in broad, rhetorical terms. Governments argue that restrictions are necessary to protect national security, to preserve state sovereignty, or to advance the “War on Terror.” But these are malleable concepts, and discussions at this level are often unconstructive.

To add analytic depth to the discussion, ICNL and Cordaid launched the Civil Liberties Prize to promote scholarship on civil society and civil liberties. Cordaid was an ideal partner for this initiative. Based in the Netherlands and with a worldwide network, Cordaid contributed ninety years’ experience as well as keen international perspectives on contemporary issues.

We also express our appreciation to all the scholars who submitted manuscripts as well as the panel that reviewed each submission. Chaired by Kumi Naidoo (CIVICUS), the panel included Clare Doube (Civil Society Watch), Grace Rebollos (Western Mindanao State University), and Richard Fries (former Chief Charity Commissioner, England and Wales). After thorough review, the panel selected the following manuscripts for recognition:

Winner of the ICNL-Cordaid Civil Liberties Prize

Mark Sidel (professor of law, faculty scholar, and Lauridsen faculty fellow at the University of Iowa) for his manuscript, Counter-Terrorism and the Enabling Legal and Political Environment for Civil Society: A Comparative International Analysis of “War on Terror” States.

Distinguished Research Awards

Oonagh Breen (professor in the School of Law at University College Dublin) for her manuscript, EU Regulation of Charitable Organizations: The Politics of Legally Enabling Civil Society.

Adong Florence Odora (a Ugandan lawyer who has served as a researcher with Equalinrights in The Netherlands) for her manuscript, Rising from the Ashes: The Rebirth of Civil Society in an Authoritarian Political Environment.

Honorable Mention

Angela Calvo (Regional Director of Advocacy and Citizen Committee for Caritas in Latin America and the Caribbean) for her manuscript, Strategies to Advance Civic Space in Countries with Limited Adherence to the Rule of Law.

Shambhavi Murthy Gopalkrishna (lecturer and senior academic faculty member, Department of Political Science at the University of Lagos) for her manuscript, Reflections as a Citizen of Civil Society Amidst Divided Lands on Reinventing Civil Society, Civil Liberties and Governance in Post-Conflict Societies: Patterns, Potentials, and Challenges in the Globalized New Millennium.

This year, we mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We hope these papers help will inform our journey from principles to performance, ensuring safe legal space for civil society around the world.