Elements for Successful CSO Law Reform Initiatives




Elements for Successful CSO Law Reform Initiatives

November 3, 2015

In recent years, much attention has been given to the regulatory backlash against civil society – that is, the use of law to constrain civic space and impede the important work in which civil society organizations (CSOs) are engaged. Successful efforts to improve the legal environment for civil society are often overlooked. Whether measured in terms of the enactment of more enabling legislation or in terms of the improvement of regressive draft laws prior to enactment, “success” in legal reform can and does occur. The key elements or learning points of successful reform initiatives have not, however, been closely examined.

The research paper Elements for Successful CSO Law Reform Initiatives seeks to fill this gap by focusing on the elements of successful reform initiatives. The paper comprises two sections.

First, the paper presents case studies from three different countries, where reform efforts have resulted in improvements to the legal framework for civil society. In two of the countries, Iraq and Macedonia, the Parliaments enacted enabling laws for CSOs in 2010. In Honduras, the process is ongoing. However, the example of Honduras was included to show how CSOs can lead the way and advocate for an enabling law reform and also avert potential regressive drafts in politically deteriorating environments. The case studies are developed with consideration of the social and legal context confronting civil society, that is, the nature of the legal threat or opportunity; the objectives of law reform initiative; the drivers of the reform initiative; the strategic steps undertaken by governmental and civil society actors to further law reform; the results of the reform efforts; and the lessons learned from the reform process.

Second, the paper provides an analysis of the elements of successful reform initiatives. While recognizing that every context is unique, the paper identifies transferable learning points – i.e., common denominators of success – that can inform and guide reform efforts in other countries. To help further illustrate and support the learning points, the paper also includes examples from recent initiatives to respond to regulatory threats in other regions (sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union).

The paper is based on input provided by the key actors leading and participating in the reform initiatives in the three countries. Information was collected from papers and reports developed by these reform participants, as well as research prepared by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and the European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL).