In international human rights law,
states are considered main actors and were considered the sole actor for many
years before the World War II. But at
the same time, civil society was inalienable part of the promotion and
protection of rights of individuals far before adoption of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights in 1947. Civil society movement for the abolition
of the slavery can be a good example of pre-human rights era civil society
movement and its impact on political and legal change. Following the beginning
of 20th century, structure of the global political and legal
relations started changing rapidly. After World War II, role of the non-state
actors such as international organizations, the civil society, armed groups and
others rose dramatically and they became an integral part of the global
governance and legal arena, especially in the field of international human
rights law. Nowadays, no scholar can deny the increasingly influential role of
non-state actors in national and international political and legal fora.
Especially, the tremendous role of the non-governmental organizations in the protection
and promotion of human rights.
This essay will identify what are non-governmental
organizations, what roles they play in promotion and protection of the human
rights, what kind of challenges they face in their work, what limitations they
have and their future.
of non-governmental organizations
is no generally agreed definition of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and
the term carries different connotations in different context. Nevertheless,
there are some fundamental features for the definition of the non-governmental
organizations. Clearly non-governmental organizations must be independent from
any governmental influence and control. In addition, NGO must be non-political,
not for profit and non-violent. These characteristics are commonly used as they
reflect the conditions for recognition by the UN. Non-governmental organizations can have
different forms in different countries: not for profit organizations, public
funds, public associations, non-governmental organizations and others. NGOs can
also be divided into two thematic categories they work with such as generalized
(civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights) and specific
(child rights, rights of persons with disabilities, freedom from torture and etc.).
Moreover, NGOs can be divided into two groups based on where they work:
national or international. Some NGOs can work both at national and
international levels. This essay uses definition that
excludes political, religious and labour associations
basis of the NGOs
Freedom of association recognized in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20), the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22), the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 8), in the International
Convention on Protection from All Forms of Discrimination (Article 5), as well
as in a number of regional and special treaties, is a legal basis for creation
and activities of NGOs. These important international legal documents enshrine the
right of every person to freedom of association and “the right of each
person to form unions and act in such to protect their interests”4. These
two rights are essential elements of the purpose of non-governmental
The term “non-governmental
organization” as a legal lexicon in the course of the creation of the
Charter of the United Nations in the year due to the inclusion of Article 71, a
radical innovation at the time, which enabled NGOs to participate legally in international
relations and interstate diplomacy.
Of course, the role of such a specific
form of citizens’ association as human rights NGOs that most correspond to the
nature of the democratic transformations taking place in the world should be
singled out from the general category of non-governmental organizations. They
differ in many respects from the traditional form of public associations, which
include trade unions, political parties, and business unions, scientific and
technical, cultural and educational and other voluntary social unions. Human
rights NGOs, carrying in themselves the general characteristics of public
associations, demonstrate a number of special, inherent only in this variety of
public associations, features.
Human rights organizations are
organizations that are called upon to serve disadvantaged or ignored groups of
the population, promote the realization of their rights, seek social change and
be in the service of people. These are independent, effective non-governmental
organizations, which, while contributing to the protection of basic human
rights, generally contribute to national development, ensuring the unity of
society and the development of human rights.
do we need NGOs at the international human rights regime?
In general, states are not committed to
the protection of the human rights standards in their own territory even though
they voluntarily accepted them. States even less interested in working with the
other states in the protection and promotion of human rights. Human rights standards protect individuals
from the state and states seen as potential perpetrators. International human
rights organizations are dependent on their functional responsibilities and
capacity and they are not effective in protection of the rights of individuals as
individual often overwhelmed or intimidated when confronting powerful state
authorities or human rights violations. In this case, human rights regime needs
counter power to the state such as non-governmental organizations to promote
and protect the rights of the individuals. That is why, international and
regional human rights mechanisms are not effective without non-governmental
organizations. Moreover, human rights systems depends on non-governmental
organizations as NGOs participate in monitoring of compliance of the state, in
collecting reliable information and changing the system to more effective.
relations and NGOs (historical background of NGO development)?
Non-governmental organizations, as they
are understood today, emerged in the XIX century, but they acquired a significant
political influence only in the last half of the century. The existence of human rights NGOs has a long
history. In 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross was established
in Geneva to protect human rights during the armed conflicts. Then the French
League for the Protection of Human Rights and Citizen emerged in 1902, the
Society for Combating Slavery was established in London in 1909 and an
international league of human rights appeared in New York in 1942.
The most important stage of the
development of the human rights movement is associated with the end of the
Second World War, the creation of the UN and the proclamation of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
“It is necessary that human rights
be protected by the rule of law in order to ensure that a person is not forced
to resort, as a last resort, to an uprising against tyranny and
oppression.” These words were made on December 10, 1948, when the third
session of the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 217 A, which proclaimed
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration has become a truly
historic document, and the day of its adoption is celebrated practically by all
countries of the world as Human Rights Day.
A significant stage in the development
of the human rights movement was the 70-ies. The emergence of new human rights
movements and NGOs was facilitated by the fact that it was during this period
that the creation of the International Bill of Rights was completed. Legally
binding acts in the field of human rights protection – the Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
were adopted and entered into force.
With the advent of these important
international treaties, not only the legal basis for the activities of human
rights organizations has been strengthened, but the legal framework within
which both national and international NGOs could operate has become more
specific. It was during this period that organizations such as the
International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, the International
Federation of Human Rights, the International Organization for the Protection
Thus, it can be said that the emergence
of NGOs, whose goal is the protection of human rights, reflects an objective
reality. Human rights organizations reflect the need in all countries for
organizations that allow the solution of the human rights problem informally,
quickly, efficiently and at low cost. The activities of human rights NGOs are
based on the same principles of respect for human rights as enshrined in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, each of which is called upon to promote
the implementation in their countries of international human standards common
to all mankind.
and International relation theories
of the NGOs in international human rights protection and promotion
mission and scope of operation NGOs use different methods in order to promomte
and protect human rights.
organizations play different roles in the process of promotion and protection
of human rights. Their
role also can change depending on their
partners or counter actors. In general, NGOs act as advocates, norm setters,
According to the
Hicks, NGOs play main role in initiating human rights
diplomacy. By showing existing abuses and pushing the state to bear its duty,
NGOs act as catalysts of action taken by government or other actors. When
existing violations are exposed, the government is expected to react and if the
state fails to do so, it is often followed by close examination of the issue
and criticism by NGOs. NGOs are catalysts
because they do not have direct authority to change the regime and legislation so
they have to influence states to alter policies or review judgments through
mobilization of the stakeholders and civil society. NGOs can put catalytic
pressure both domestically and internationally. They can catalyze the human
rights change through capacity building and human rights education, which will
lead to awakening of the mind of citizens and prepare them for more effective
claim of their human rights. The movement against torture led by Amnesty
International can be one of the best examples of catalyst role.
Also, NGOs play crucial role in advocacy
of Peggy Hicks defines six roles for the non-governmental organizations, who
work for promotion and protection of the human rights. These are catalyst, monitors,
advocates, shapers of the debate, partners in policy making, legalizers or beneficiaries.
According her role distribution, NGOs
can be catalysts of the actions by government or other actors by exposing human
rights abuses in the public domain.
Growing role and influence of
non-governmental organizations in international arena expose them to critics.
They are often criticized for their lack of accountability, legitimacy and
fragmentation of national efforts.