Recognizing the Voice of Civil Society, 2020 Tang Prize in Rule of Law Goes to Three NGOs

  • Vivian Newman Pont (second right), executive director of Dejusticia, talks about access to information in an UNESCO event in 2018 (Photo courtesy of Dejusticia)
  • The International Workshop on Human Rights organized by Dejusticia in 2018 (Photo courtesy of Dejusticia)
  • Recognizing the Voice of Civil Society, 2020 Tang Prize in Rule of Law Goes to Three NGOs
  • The Legal Agenda participates in a protest to demand the abolition of article 534 that criminalizes same-sex relationships  (Photo courtesy of The Legal Agenda)
  • The Bangladesh Environmental lawyers Association (BELA) runs a workshop for the police on environmental policing (Photo courtesy of BELA)
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Three NGOs were named recipients of the 2020 Tang Prize in Rule of Law, “for their efforts in furthering the rule of law and its institutions through education and advocacy”, and their accomplishments are especially admirable given the fact that they are all in “milieus where the foundations of the rule of law are under severe challenge”, according to the citation. 


The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association is commended for its commitment to the promotion of the concept of public interest litigation and the defense of environmental justice in Bangladesh. Dejusticia: the Center for Law, Justice and Society is lauded for its determination to effect social changes through activism informed by research in Colombia and further to South America. The Legal Agenda is praised for its efforts to strengthen judicial independence and to protect the rights of vulnerable groups from where it is formed in Lebanon to the greater Arab world.


The decision to award the prize to organizations reflects a continuous process during which the face of the Tang Prize in Rule of Law is constantly sketched from different angles, Chair of the Tang Prize Selection Committee for Rule of Law Jiunn-Rong Yeh explained. 2014 laureate Albie Sachs and 2016 winner Louise Arbour are both renowned justices, and the 2018 awardee Joseph Raz is an esteemed scholar. While they represent two facets of the rule of law, this year, the Selection Committee found the third one embodied by these three NGOs whose impact has transcended borders and achieved global presence. They stand for the voice of civil society whose active engagement in national issues is an asset for the country as a whole. 


Moreover, they symbolize the importance of civil constitutionalism, illustrated by a bottom-up approach to bulwarking law and justice through public debates and capacity-building activities, as indicated by Prof. Yeh. By helping civilians acquire legal knowledge, these activities instill into people’s minds practical legal concepts that can become useful tools to find their own voice for change in the society. Prof. Wen-Chen Chang of National Chiao-Tung University reminded us that it is of great significance for civilians to advocate the protection of human rights and the environment, particularly in circumstances where it is often futile to wait for the government to properly enforce the law. It is also worth noting that, under extreme hardships and disadvantages in resources, these NGOs sharpened the public’s awareness of using legal means, reshaped the fundamental legal institutions to improve their own living conditions and stressed the protection of the marginalized communities, which, all in all, vividly illuminate the value of the rule of law.


In concluding the announcement, Prof. Yeh pointed out that by recognizing the tremendous efforts and contributions made by these three NGOs, the Tang Prize helped pinpoint the world’s attention on the Global South, highlight the harsh conditions they work in, and increase the visibility of those devoting their life to fight for just causes. During this global pandemic when social inequalities have been exacerbated in the countries where these three NGOs are situated, this recognition from the Selection Committee sends a message to care for those who are struggling, and a wish for mutual help and collaboration to make the world a better place.