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ICNL wins $1 million MacArthur Award to promote freedom of assembly around the world

The ICNL(International Center for Not-for-Profit Law) received $1 million from the MacArthur Foundation to advance its mission of creating a legal framework for the right of assembly and association in countries around the world.

By Staff Writer / February 22, 2012

Civil society leaders sign a petition for a 'modern NGO law for Kurdistan' at a Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s Civil Society Day. The ICNL has worked in Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq to promote freedom of assembly and association.

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What the work boils down to is this: promoting freedom of association and assembly. How it's done: by helping groups design laws that protect these freedoms.

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"In too many countries we find that the legal framework actually restricts the ability of individuals to gather together to try to improve their societies," says Douglas Rutzen, president of The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) in Washington D.C. "We see in country after country the rights that we might take for granted in the United States are restricted."

The ICNL now works in more than 100 countries helping to establish the legal framework for enhancing individual rights. Last week the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named the ICNL as one of 15 organizations in six countries that are receiving the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. The ICNL will be awarded $1 million. (A list of all the winners is here.)

Among the ICNL's accomplishments:

• Helping to organize a coalition of more than 7,000 organizations in Iraq to pass a law that supports freedom of association and assembly.

• Creating the idea for and helping to establish the first United Nations Special Rapporteur on the freedoms of assembly and association. A UN resolution was adopted in September 2010 and the UN Special Rapporteur now works to defend freedom of association and assembly around the world.

• Maintaining a database of 2,300 laws from more than 160 countries in 37 languages that can be used as source material to create new laws regarding civil freedoms.

The ICNL is currently working in Libya, in concert with the UN and other partners to expand the rights of citizens there. "In Qaddafi's Libya the death penalty could be imposed for someone who sought to set up an independent human rights group," Mr. Rutzen says.

In Mexico, the ICNL is helping local partners work to allow human rights organizations to receive tax deductible donations. In China, it's partnering with the Chinese government to create a legal framework for disaster response and clarify the role charities play in it.

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