Type: Definition Essays
Sample donated: Hugh Poole
Last updated: August 11, 2019
In international human rights law, states areconsidered main actors and were considered the sole actor for many years beforethe World War II. But at the same time,civil society was inalienable part of the promotion and protection of rights ofindividuals far before adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in1947. Civil society movement for the abolition of the slavery can be a goodexample of pre-human rights era civil society movement and its impact onpolitical 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 internationalorganizations, the civil society, armed groups and others rose dramatically andthey became an integral part of the global governance and legal arena,especially in the field of international human rights law. Nowadays, no scholarcan deny the increasingly influential role of non-state actors in national andinternational political and legal fora. Especially, the tremendous role of the non-governmentalorganizations in the protection and promotion of human rights.
This essay will explore definition of the non-governmentalorganizations, what roles they play in promotion and protection of the humanrights, what kind of challenges they face in their work, what limitations theyhave and their future. Definitionof non-governmental organizations Non-governmentalorganizations (hereinafter – NGO) are intermediary among individuals, internationalorganizations and governments. They are part of the civil society, which is broaderconcept that includes interest groups, religious associations, trade union andet cetera. When it comes to definition, there is no universally accepteddefinition of non-governmental organizations, and the term carries differentconnotations in different context. However, the definition of non-governmentalorganizations has some fundamental features: NGOs should be independent fromany governmental influence and control. In addition, NGO must be non-political,not for profit and non-violent (Willetts, n.d.
). These characteristics arecommonly used as they reflect the conditions for recognition by the UN. Non-governmental organizations can havedifferent forms in different countries: not for profit organizations, publicfunds, public associations, non-governmental organizations and others. NGOs canalso 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 andinternational levels. This essay will explore one specific type ofnon-governmental organizations, namely human rights NGOs. According to the Wiseberg, humanrights nongovernmental organization can be identified as a private associationwhich devotes significant resources to the promotion and protection of humanrights, which is independent of both governmental and political groups thatseek direct political power, and which does not itself seek such pow (Wiseberg, 1991). The more specific definition of human rights NGOis given by Martin Olz: “Generally, for an NGO to be considered as human rightsNGO it should be of private character and its work should be guided by the ideaof international human rights as set forth in the UN Declaration of HumanRights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, theInternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and other instrumentof international law” (Olz, 1997).
Thelatter definition of human rights NGO is used in the context of this essay. Legalbasis of the NGOsFreedom of association, recognized in the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights (Article 20), the International Covenant on Civiland Political Rights (Article 22), the International Covenant on Economic,Social and Cultural Rights (Article 8), in the International Convention onProtection from All Forms of Discrimination (Article 5), as well as in a numberof regional and special treaties, is a legal basis for creation and activitiesof NGOs. These important international legal documents enshrine the right ofevery person to freedom of association and “the right of each person toform unions and act in such to protect their interests”.
These two rightsare essential elements of the purpose and existence of non-governmentalorganizations. The term “non-governmental organization” asa legal lexicon in the course of the creation of the Charter of the UnitedNations in the year due to the inclusion of Article 71, a radical innovation atthe time, which enabled NGOs to participate legally in international relationsand multilateral diplomacy. According to Frantz and Martens, the UN decided tospecifically mention non-governmental actors in its Charter of 1945 as manyrepresentatives of NGOs have helped to develop the UN Charter and throughArticle 71 international community of sovereign States wanted to recognize therole of NGOs1.Whydo we need NGOs at the international human rights regime? In general, states are not committed to theprotection of the human rights standards in their own territory even thoughthey voluntarily accepted them2.States even less interested in working with the other states in the protectionand promotion of human rights3. Human rights standards protect individualsfrom the state and states seen as potential perpetrators. International humanrights organizations are dependent on their functional responsibilities andcapacity and they are not effective in protection of the rights of individuals asindividual often overwhelmed or intimidated when confronting powerful stateauthorities or human rights violations.
In this case, human rights regime needscounter power to the state such as non-governmental organizations to promoteand protect the rights of the individuals. That is why, international andregional human rights mechanisms are not effective without non-governmentalorganizations. Moreover, human rights systems depends on non-governmentalorganizations as NGOs participate in monitoring of compliance of the state, incollecting reliable information and changing the system to more effective. Of course, the role of such a specific form ofcitizens’ association as human rights NGOs that most correspond to the natureof the democratic transformations in the world should be singled out from thegeneral category of non-governmental organizations. They differ in manyrespects from the traditional form of public associations, which include tradeunions, 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 thatare called upon to serve disadvantaged or ignored groups of the population,promote the realization of their rights, seek social change and be in theservice of people. These are independent, effective non-governmentalorganizations, which, while contributing to the protection of basic humanrights, generally contribute to national development, ensuring the unity ofsociety and the development of human rights.
Historicalbackground of NGO developmentNon-governmental organizations, as they areunderstood today, emerged in the XIX century, but they acquired a significantpolitical influence only in the last half of the century. The existence of human rights NGOs has a longhistory. In 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross was establishedin Geneva to protect human rights during the armed conflicts.
Then the FrenchLeague for the Protection of Human Rights and Citizen emerged in 1902, theSociety for Combating Slavery was established in London in 1909 and aninternational league of human rights appeared in New York in 1942.The most important stage of the development of thehuman rights movement is associated with the end of the Second World War, thecreation of the UN and the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of HumanRights.”It is necessary that human rights be protectedby the rule of law in order to ensure that a person is not forced to resort, asa last resort, to an uprising against tyranny and oppression.” These wordswere made on December 10, 1948, when the third session of the UN GeneralAssembly adopted resolution 217 A, which proclaimed the Universal Declarationof Human Rights. The Declaration has become a truly historic document, and theday of its adoption is celebrated practically by all countries of the world asHuman Rights Day.A significant stage in the development of the humanrights movement was the 70-ies.
The emergence of new human rights movements andNGOs was facilitated by the fact that it was during this period that thecreation of the International Bill of Rights was completed. Legally bindingacts in the field of human rights protection – the Covenant on Civil andPolitical Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were adoptedand entered into force.With the advent of these important internationaltreaties, not only the legal basis for the activities of human rightsorganizations has been strengthened, but the legal framework within which bothnational and international NGOs could operate has become more specific. It wasduring this period that organizations such as the International Commission ofJurists, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights,the International Organization for the Protection of Children,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 organizationsthat allow the solution of the human rights problem informally, quickly,efficiently and at low cost. The activities of human rights NGOs are based onthe same principles of respect for human rights as enshrined in the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights, each of which is called upon to promote theimplementation in their countries of international human standards common toall mankind.1 2 3