in Global Justice and the Bulwark of Localism: Human Rights in Context (Eisgruber & Sajo eds. 2005)

Ascriptive Groups and the Problems of the Liberal NGO Model of International Civil Society

Benedict Kingsbury

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The growing sense that there exists, or ought soon to exist, an international civil society has begun to inspire among its participants and proponents a quest for a more complete articulation of normative principles, perhaps even a kind of constitution, to guide the future development of such a society and to build a sense of coherence and solidarity among its adherents. In this chapter I will argue first that an opera­tional code of liberal freedom of speech and freedom of association has been the de facto guide in the construction of international civil society and, second, that this code encourages voluntaristic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) but is not well suited to ascriptive groups (in which membership is based more on birth than volition) exercising governmental powers such as some indigenous peoples’ organizations. A richer international constitutionalism will be needed to address accountability, mandate, representation, and participation in relation to these groups. In the absence of such a theorized constitutional structure for international civil society, I argue that some modest progress on these questions may be made by drawing on an incipient internationalized public law of indigenous peoples’ issues.