Supporting Civil Society

The CEELI Institute conducts a wide range of workshops for lawyers and civil society representatives, focusing on mechanisms for enhancing government accountability to civil society, strengthening the public’s capacity to demand transparent government, and supporting effortsof lawyers engaged in representing and defending NGOs and journalists. The Institute’s efforts are designed to support civic-minded organizations in their efforts to access and obtain public information, toundertake public oversight activities, and to use such information to conduct advocacy campaigns, investigative efforts and legal actions aimed at increasing government accountability.

Strengthening Civil Society Advocacy in Central and Eastern Europe

Faced with increasing government crackdowns on their work, civil society organizations across Central and Eastern Europe need to perfect the skills necessary to fight back.  Accordingly, in 2018 the CEELI Institute initiated new programs to promote legal advocacy by and on behalf of civil society organizations in the region. CEELI’s workshops focus on how to effectively use a myriad of available EU laws and instruments to hold national member states accountable. Participants have examined how to pursue legal remedies in the European Court of Justice, how to lobby EU agencies charged with enforcing relevant EU laws, directives and regulations, and how EU laws, instruments and case law can be used in their domestic courts.  Participants have also examined best practices for preparation and use of effective fact-finding reports documenting attacks by national governments on civil society, including their use in lobbying efforts in Brussels. Finally, participants have discussed future possible coordination among regional civil society actors, and the formation of more effective links among existing groups defending civil society space in the region.

This project reflects the need to organize aggressive civil society responses to a larger trend of repressive governmental actions seen across the world. To carry out their missions, civil society needs to be able to exercise its rights fully and without unnecessary or arbitrary restrictions. Within the past decade, however, countries such as Poland, Hungary and Azerbaijan have enacted legislation that effectively stymies CSOs growth and activity. In particular, laws and regulations relate to the recognition or registration of CSOs, reporting and operating requirements, and access to foreign resources and funding. It is particularly disturbing that these developments are happening within the European Union itself, which declared democracy and the rule of law to be the pillars of its policymaking.  Now is the time to organize an effective response.

Respite and Fellowship Program Human Rights Lawyers, Civil Society Activists and Journalists

With generous support from a variety of donors, the CEELI Institute is continuing its program, begun in 2015, to provide respite, fellowship and sabbatical opportunities in Prague for human rights lawyers working under stressful and challenging conditions in their home countries. Our program is designed to help mitigate the damaging effect of the severe stress and untenable workloads carried by many among the community of human rights lawyers and activists. Often working in hostile and authoritarian environments, these lawyers work tirelessly to defend their clients – often at great risk to themselves and their families. Participants in the program have included lawyers working on difficult cases of human rights abuse, and those defending NGOs who came for short-to-medium term stays of up to three months.

The Institute has also expanded its fellowship program to include investigative journalists, civil society activists, human rights defenders and others seeking opportunities to enrich their work in international settings, or simply in need of opportunities for rest, recuperation, and safety. The specifics of each fellowship are tailored to the individual needs of the participant.

Selected past programs:

  • In partnership with the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties (a grassroots organization which came to the forefront of Ukrainian civil society for their work during the Maidan uprisings of 2013-14) the Institute has trained a network of Ukrainian citizens engaged in monitoring the conduct of law enforcement agencies, courts, and local government throughout the country. The ongoing project, named “OZON” to signify its aim of promoting transparency, brings together regional leaders from across Ukraine to study best practices for projects promoting government accountability. This year’s efforts focused particularly on communication strategies, including the development of useful and tangible reports as part of an accountability campaign, and effective communication of their efforts with the public and media.
  • The Institute provided ongoing training and support for lawyers defending Ukrainian journalists and bloggers who, despite recent reforms in the country, continue to suffer from a variety of legal and governmental restrictions on their activities. The programs gathered participants from across Ukrainian regions to address challenges faced under current Ukrainian media legislation, with reference to comparative international standards. The support and protection provided by Ukrainian lawyers for journalists, bloggers, and media in Ukraine is critical to the larger anti-corruption efforts now underway in the country, and will ultimately contribute to the creation of more transparent and well-functioning public institutions in this critical phase for Ukraine.