Non-governmental organizations

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Non-governmental organizations

Sit-in to raise awareness of delays in trying rape and gender-based violence cases in Liberia.

A non-governmental organization (NGO, also often referred to as "civil society organization" or CSO) is a not-for-profit group, principally independent from government, which is organized on a local, national or international level to address issues in support of the public good. Task-oriented and made up of people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of services and humanitarian functions, bring public concerns to governments, monitor policy and programme implementation, and encourage participation of civil society stakeholders at the community level. Some are organized around specific issues, such as human rights.

NGOs have been partners of the United Nations since 1947. In accordance with Article 71 of the UN Charter, NGOs can have consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Their relationship with entities of the United Nations system differs depending on their location and mandate. For example, NGOs which have an information component can become associated with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) to help disseminate information on the work and aims of the Organization. Many UN Specialized Agencies operate their own accreditation programmes for NGOs which are relevant to their area of work.

Numerous local, regional and international NGOs have played an essential role in national rule of law reform processes and at the global and international level. Some conduct research and analysis in the legal and other fields (e.g. sociology, economics) relevant to the rule of law. In many cases, they produce reports with policy recommendations, for use in their advocacy. NGOs often serve as early warning mechanisms and help monitor and implement international agreements. Others group professionals or other NGOs in specialized fields or professions into associations, networks or commissions with a view to exchanging knowledge and good practices, and facilitating the provision of rule of law assistance. Most non-governmental organizations in the rule of law field are engaged in some form of direct assistance or services, including advising on law-making and other forms of technical assistance, and/or fund and manage rule of law projects.

The number of national and local NGOs worldwide that engage in such rule of law activities is vast. This page therefore provides information only about a range of international and regional NGOs that conduct one of several of these activities. For ease of reference, they are categorized broadly by the type of organization.

Advocacy, Assistance and Pro Bono Services
Associations and Commissions
Centres of Excellence and Institutes
International Committee of the Red Cross

  • Advocacy, Assistance and Pro Bono Services
    • Amnesty International is a worldwide campaigning movement that works to promote internationally recognized human rights for all. It undertakes research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights.
    • ARTICLE 19 is a human rights organization with a specific mandate and focus on the defence and promotion of freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide. Its activities include advocacy and campaigning, research, legal analyses, drafting of model laws, and capacity-building.
    • Avocats Sans Frontières (‘Lawyers Without Borders’ – ASF Belgium) is mostly made up of lawyers, solicitors and magistrates, aiming to contribute, completely independently, to the establishment of a just, equitable and united society, through advocacy and programmes in a range of countries.
    • Global Rights is a human rights advocacy group that partners with local activists to challenge injustice and amplify new voices within the global discourse.
    • Human Rights Watch is a worldwide, independent organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights through targeted in-depth research and strategic, targeted advocacy.
    • International Legal Alliances - Microjustice for All (ILA) is an international network organization that assists local organizations set up their own microjustice programmes worldwide. It encourages and stimulates locally owned initiatives, and disseminates microjustice knowledge to local communities.
    • International Legal Foundation (ILF) is a non-profit public defender organisation created to assist post-conflict countries and those in transition in the establishment of effective, quality criminal defense services for the poor, which includes a focus on indigent defense.
    • International Alert works to lay the foundations for lasting peace and security in communities affected by violent conflict. It works to connect up the experiences and concerns of those who are the intended beneficiaries of security enhancing programmes with the donors, policy makers and implementers on order to improve both policy and practice.
    • International Senior Lawyers Project provides volunteer legal services by skilled and experienced attorneys to help governments and citizens develop and implement legal reforms, assists programs that advance the social and economic well-being of people in developing countries, and builds the capacity of local organizations and professionals to meet the needs of their communities.
    • International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) promotes recognition of women’s human rights under the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (the CEDAW Convention). Since its inception, IWRAW’s program has expanded to encompass advocacy for women’s human rights under all the international human rights treaties.
    • IWRAW Asia Pacific is an independent human rights organization with a regional focus, working towards the implementation of the human rights of women. It seeks to promote an effective flow of information on the CEDAW Convention between the local and the global levels, thereby enabling women to monitor and facilitate the implementation of the Convention domestically and utilize it to advance their interests.
    • Interpeace is an international peacebuilding organization that helps divided and conflicted societies build sustainable peace by focusing on reinforcing local capacities to overcome deep social divisions and to address conflict in non-violent ways.
    • Juristes Sans Frontières (‘Jurists Without Borders’) groups legal professionals with a view to using their experience and expertise for the promotion of human rights, especially through investigative and expert missions in the field, as well as advocacy with relevant institutions and decision-makers.
    • Lawyers Without Borders is the world's largest group of volunteer lawyers from around the globe who offer pro bono service for support to rule of law projects and initiatives in the human rights and global capacity building sectors.
    • No Peace Without Justice works for the protection and promotion of human rights, rule of law and international justice through three thematic areas of work: international criminal justice, female genital mutilation and Middle East and North Africa democracy.
    • Penal Reform International (PRI) works on penal and criminal justice reform worldwide with penal reform activists, NGOs and governments, as well as inter-governmental organizations.
    • Public International Law & Policy Group operates as a global pro bono law firm providing free legal assistance to states and governments involved in conflicts, as well as policy formulation advice and training on matters related to conflict resolution.
    • Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard University aims to enable governments to fulfill their obligations to ensure public safety and justice, through research, teaching, curriculum development and long-lasting partnerships with practitioners and other scholars.
    • Saferworld is an international NGO working to prevent violent conflict and promote cooperative approaches to security. Saferworld supports partners to create safer communities in places affected by violent crime, conflict and the impact of small arms; gives technical support to governments and civil society; and conducts policy research and international advocacy.
    • Servicio Paz y Justicia en América Latina ('The Peace and Justice Service’) promotes respect for human rights, with a special focus on truth-finding and justice in the process of democracy-building in South America and around the world.
    • Southern African Legal Assistance Network is a network of non-profit, non-governmental organizations in the Southern Africa Development Community region that advocate for the rights of the poor, disadvantaged and marginalized through providing legal services; engaging in public legal education; participating in law reform and policy change; undertaking public interest litigation.
    • Tiri works with governments, business and civil society in a growing global network of specialists, academics, institutions and organizations to find practical solutions to making integrity work.
    • Transparency International is a global network aiming to end the devastating impact of corruption worldwide through advocacy and campaigning. Its local chapters fight corruption in the national arena, especially by bringing together relevant players from government, civil society, business and the media to promote transparency in elections, in public administration, in procurement and in business.
    • Women Living Under Muslim Laws is an international solidarity network, linking individuals women and organizations in more than 70 countries. It provides information, support and a collective space for women whose lives are shaped, conditioned or governed by laws and customs said to derive from Islam.

  • Associations and Commissions 
    • Altus is a global alliance established by 6 NGOs and academic centers around the world working to improve public safety and justice.
    • American Bar Association (ABA) runs the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, non-profit program implementing legal reform programs in more than 40 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and North Africa. 
    • Comisión Andina de Juristas (‘Andean Commission of Jurists’) provides the Andean region (Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Perú and Venezuela) with legal services in the public interest. Its mission is to contribute to the strengthening of the rule of law and democratic institutions to ensure respect for human rights.
    • Commission on Legal Pluralism is an association of lawyers, anthropologists and other social scientists, representing all regions of the world and concerned with legal pluralism in both theory and practice. It issues newsletters, organizes international symposia, initiates and encourages of Regional Working Groups in different parts of the world, and organizes courses and summer schools in legal pluralism. Latin American Network on Legal Anthropology (RELAJU) is related to it and brings together anthropologists, lawyers and sociologists from and/or interested Latin-America, sharing an interest in the reality and the theoretical reflection on legal pluralism, both in societies with ethnic minorities and indigenous people and industrialized societies.
    • Commonwealth Judges and Magistrates Association brings together judicial officers from over 68 jurisdictions, to promote the independence of the judiciary, advance education in rule of law, and disseminate information and literature on issues of legal process within the various countries comprising the Commonwealth.
    • Global Consortium on Security Transformation is a partnership among eight institutions located in different regions of the world. It aims to encourage existing south-south and south-north security and development debates in order to promote a change of the existing understanding of security as well as open spaces for new voices.
    • International Bar Association (IBA) comprises international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies spanning all continents. It influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.
    • IBA’s Human Rights Institute works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law through projects including human rights training for lawyers and judges, fact-finding missions, and long-term technical assistance programmes.
    • International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is dedicated to the primacy, coherence and implementation of international law and principles that advance human rights through rule of law, using an impartial, objective and authoritative legal approach and providing legal expertise at both the international and national levels. Its Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers works to promote and protect judicial and legal independence and impartiality through a variety of means.
    • International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) is a worldwide association for corrections and prison professionals, dedicated to improving global understanding and professionalism in the sector by providing a forum for the exchange of ideas, technology, and best practices.
    • International Council on Human Rights Policy (ICHRP) provides a forum for applied research, reflection and forward thinking on matters of international human rights policy. It identifies issues that impede efforts to protect and promote human rights and proposes approaches and strategies that will advance that purpose.
    • International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) is a world wide umbrella organization of NGOs with legal and human rights expertise, providing technical assistance to post-conflict countries.
    • International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs promote indigenous peoples' right to self-determination, cultural integrity, and development under their own conditions, by developing documentation and publications, undertaking human rights advocacy and lobbying, conducting research and implementing projects.
    • World Justice Project (WJP) leads a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the rule of law globally by building an active network of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders from 17 disciplinary fields, representing all socio-economic levels of society. WJP also administers the Rule of Law Index, a quantitative assessment tool which measures a country's adherence to the rule of law and identifies areas where a country's rule of law is weak.

  • Centres of Excellence and Institutes 
    • African Institute for Capacity Development works towards poverty reduction in the African region through human capacity development.
    • Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration is a research and educational institute working within and outside Australia to promote excellence in judicial administration by providing practical assistance and information to courts, tribunals and judicial officers.
    • Carter Center’s Human Rights Program undertakes a range of activities to strengthen civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights and freedoms enumerated in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the bedrock of peaceful and just societies.
    • Centre for European Constitutional Law – Themistocles and Dimitris Tsatsos Foundation aspires to contribute to the promotion of democratic institutions and the welfare state under the rule of law through research and institution-building projects in more than 25 countries.
    • Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue promotes humanitarian principles, the prevention of conflict and the alleviation of its effects through dialogue.
    • Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector (IRIS) at the University of Maryland, College Park, is a research and advisory center working to understand and facilitate economic growth and democratic development in developing and transition countries, focusing on the role of formal and informal institutions and rules by which individuals organize economic, political, and social activity.
    • Center for Legislative Development of the State University of New York at Albany delivers training and technical assistance programs aimed at strengthening the capacity of governmental institutions to support democratic development and good governance.
    • Center for the Administration of Justice at Florida International University Centre focuses on research, training, and public education on the administration of justice in Latin America.
    • Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University seeks to promote innovative and practical research on the design and implementation of policies to foster democracy, to promote balanced and sustainable growth, and to advance the rule of law in countries undergoing dramatic change.
    • Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) works towards the better implementation of human rights on an international basis in cooperation with state authorities, independent and academic institutions and civil society, especially by promoting sustainable and transparent processes and the use of mechanisms based on the rule of law.
    • East-West Management Institute promotes the rule of law, civil society and free market systems globally. Working in partnership with grass roots groups, local governments and international organizations, it provides training, technical expertise and grants to foster sustainable reforms in government, business and civil society.
    • Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) provides in-country advisory support and practical assistance programmes, develops and promotes appropriate democratic norms at the international and national levels, advocates good practices and conducts policy-related research to make recommendations to ensure effective democratic governance of the security sector. Its International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) brings together policy and operational security sector reform (SSR) expertise to provide the international community with comprehensive advice both on the technical and the process aspects of supporting SSR.
    • Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL) initiates, facilitates, encourages, and funds multidisciplinary research on the internationalisation of national law. Published under the leadership of HiiL, the Hague Journal on the Rule of Law aims to deepen and broaden the knowledge of the rule of law and its relation to economic growth, poverty reduction, promotion of democracy, protection of human rights and geopolitical stability.
    • Henry L. Stimson Center is devoted to enhancing international peace and security through a unique combination of rigorous analysis and outreach. Its work is focused on three essential priorities for global security: strengthening institutions for international peace and security, building regional security, and reducing weapons of mass destruction and transnational threats.
    • Institute for Security Studies, a regional human security research institute operating across sub-Saharan Africa, is guided by a broad approach to security which reflects the conviction that African development requires a democratic context and a vibrant civil society.
    • International Center for Not-for-Profit Law carries out programs and research promoting an enabling legal environment for civil society and public participation worldwide.
    • International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy provides advice, information, education, research, proposals for policy development and legislation, and where appropriate, technical assistance to governments and other agencies, with a view to improving the quality of justice through reform of criminal law, policy, and practice domestically in Canada, regionally and globally.
    • International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS) seeks to assist governments and other relevant agencies to develop appropriate policies on prisons and the use of imprisonment.
    • International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) assists countries emerging from repressive rule or armed conflict, as well as established democracies where historical injustices or systemic abuse remain unresolved, to pursue accountability for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse.
    • International Institute for Justice and Development promotes the principles of democratic governance and the rule of law for all people nationally and internationally, advocating for systemic reform and supporting local capacity-building and community-based development.
    • International Law Institute (ILI) is an independent, non-profit educational institution that provides training and technical assistance to find practical solutions to the legal, economic and financial problems of developing countries.
    • International Peace Institute (IPI) is an international think tank, dedicated to promoting the prevention and settlement of conflicts between and within states by strengthening international peace and security institutions. To achieve its purpose, IPI employs a mix of policy research, convening, publishing and outreach.
    • International Records Management Trust develops new strategies for managing records and information, as a basis for protecting civil and human rights, reducing poverty, controlling corruption, strengthening democracy, promoting economic and social reform, improving services to citizens, and demonstrating accountability and transparency.
    • Justice Studies Center of the Americas conducts in-depth studies of justice systems and develops innovative approaches to judicial reform; promotes regional cooperation in the Americas and the exchange of experiences among key actors in the justice sector; and generates and disseminates instruments designed to improve the quality and availability of information on justice in the region.
    • Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law researches, monitors, analyses and evaluates the legal foundations for the exercise of public functions, and links research on public international law (including the law of the European Union) with comparative constitutional and administrative law.
    • Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law primarily researches German, foreign, and international criminal law and criminology. It also contributes to the development of legislation and conducts applied research in these areas.
    • National Center for State Courts and its Institute for Court Management aims to improve the administration of justice through leadership and service to United States state courts, and courts around the world. Through research, consulting services, publications, and national educational programs, it offers solutions that enhance court operations with the latest technology; collects and interprets the latest data on court operations; and provides information on proven "best practices" for improving court operations.
    • Public Interest Law Institute advances human rights around the world by stimulating public interest advocacy and developing the institutions necessary to sustain it. Public interest law encompasses activities such as campaigning, strategic litigation, legal aid, clinical legal education, legal literacy and other public education programs.
    • RAND Corporation helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis. Its research areas include civil justice.
    • Research Institute on Judicial Systems, in collaboration with the Center for Judicial Studies of the University of Bologna, promotes research activities into the working and performance of the various components of judicial systems and the parallel development of professional expertise in the area of judicial systems reform.
    • Rights & Democracy (International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development) works with individuals, organizations and governments in Canada and abroad to promote the human and democratic rights defined in the UN International Bill of Human Rights, with a current focus on democratic development, economic and social rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, and women's rights.
    • Swisspeace is a practice-oriented peace research institute in the area of conflict analysis and peacebuilding, including transitional justice.
    • United States Institute of Peace (USIP) provides the analysis, training and tools to prevent and end conflicts, promote stability and professionalize the field of peacebuilding. Its Rule of Law Center of Innovation conducts research, identifies best practices, and develops new tools for policymakers and practitioners working to promote the rule of law. is a joint project of the Comparative Constitutions Project (CCP) and USIP to provide constitutional drafters with systematic information on design options and constitutional text, drawing on the CCP's comprehensive dataset on the features of national constitutions.
    • Vera Institute of Justice combines expertise in research, demonstration projects, and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety across the United States and around the world.

                                                                • Foundations
                                                                  • Asia Foundation is committed to the development of a peaceful, prosperous, just, and open Asia-Pacific region. Its Law Programs support Asian efforts to protect the legal rights of vulnerable groups; strengthen dispute resolution processes; and reform dysfunctional laws, policies, institutions, and practices.
                                                                  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations, promoting active international engagement by the United States and achieving practical results. Its Democracy & Rule of Law Program rigorously examines processes of democratization around the world and the United States, European, and multilateral efforts to promote political liberalization.
                                                                  • Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) seeks to improve public policies related to the administration of justice, particularly in Latin America, and to promote the rule of law and the institutions and conditions necessary to strengthen respect for human rights in democratic societies.
                                                                  • Ford Foundation is a resource for innovative people and institutions worldwide, with a view to strengthening democratic values, reducing poverty and injustice, promoting international cooperation, and advancing human achievement.
                                                                  • MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. Among other things, it seeks to further the development of an international system of justice and advance human rights around the globe.
                                                                  • Open Society Institute (OSI) seeks to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal, and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) is its operational program pursuing law reform activities. Africa Governance, Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP) is an initiative of the Soros Foundation Network's four African foundations, aiming to monitor and promote compliance by African states with the requirements of good governance, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

                                                                          • International Committee of the Red Cross
                                                                            • International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. It was assigned by States parties to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005 the mandate to protect the victims of international and internal armed conflicts.