Three NGOs were named joint winners 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. The three new Tang Prize laureates are ─ Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) from Bangladesh, Dejusticia: The Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) from Colombia, and The Legal Agenda from Lebanon.
These NGOs share four key features. First of all, they are under the conditions where the foundations of the rule of law are under great challenge. Secondly, they are committed to promoting, to improving and to furthering the rule of law and its institutions. Thirdly, they utilise strategic litigations that are based on solid academic research, pushing for governmental action to serve the law's purpose to protect. Finally, they are all dedicated to advancing the general public's understanding of the rule of law through education and advocacy, pushing forward the idea that everyone can contribute to the realisation of the rule of law.
Established in 1992, BELA works under adverse conditions where poor environmental quality and governmental corruption continue to ravage the country. While the general public reflects a distrust of legal authorities, BELA promotes the rule of law and environmental justice through public interest litigations, legislative advocacy, research and publication, as well as capacity-building for actors both in the public sector and civil society.
In 2017, BELA filed a petition with evidence and argued that pollution and encroachment of the canals are the main causes of the growing water logging problem in the capital Dhaka. As a consequence, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh ordered the government to submit a plan for the recovery and restoration of Dhaka's 50 canals. Furthermore, the Court issued a rule stipulating that the respondent authorities should explain their inaction to protect the canals. It has since become a classic case in Bangladesh legal history.
Founded in 2005, Dejusticia is a Colombian-based research and advocacy organisation with most members being leading legal scholars and practitioners on human rights, constitutional law and transitional justice.
Dejusticia had famously supported a group of 25 young plaintiffs in their lawsuit against the Colombian government, in which the organisation argued that the ongoing deforestation in the Amazon has violated the youths' constitutional rights. In 2018, Colombian Supreme Court recognised the Amazon as an entity subject of rights, and subsequently ruled that the government bears the obligation to protect, conserve and restore the Amazon. Therefore, the government should take urgent action to stem the forest degradation caused by illegal logging. Failing to do so is tantamount to an infringement of the Amazon's rights and the right to a healthy environment of both present and future generations in Colombia.
Through litigations, Dejusticia laid bare the impact deforestation in Colombia has on climate change, as well as its close connection to people's entitled rights to life and health. The winning verdict ultimately set the legal precedent in Latin America.
Since its establishment in 2009, The Legal Agenda has managed to operate against the backdrop of an influx of refugees, corruption and the public's pervasive distrust of the judicial organs. The organisation has successfully strengthened judicial independence and the rule of law in Lebanon through a multidisciplinary approach that is built on researching and monitoring the judiciary; helping in forming a club for judges to consolidate their independence from political interference; preparing a draft law for the independence of the judiciary and building support for it; promoting social debates and public support for judicial independence.
In addition, The Legal Agenda spoke up for marginalised groups and achieved major legal precedents in order to advance the legal protection for migrant workers, refugees, the LGBT community, and the families of the victims of forced disappearance. To broaden the public's knowledge of the rule of law and strengthen their legal defence, The Legal Agenda also developed model defences as guidelines when it came to vulnerable groups' vindication. Its pioneering approach has expanded beyond Lebanon to other Arab countries, notably in Tunisia where it has set up an office.
Established by Taiwanese entrepreneur Dr Samuel Yin, the biannual Tang Prize consists of four categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology and Rule of Law, with NT$ 40 million (approx US$1.3 million) in cash prize and a research grant of NT$ 10 million (approx US$ 0.33 million) allocated to each category. It aims to promote the interaction and cooperation between culture and technology so as to find a 21st century path to the sustainable development of the world. For more information, visit the prize's official website at https://www.tang-prize.org/en/first.php