Essay no scholar can deny the increasingly influential

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Background information

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What is non-governmental organization (NGO)

Historical background

Role of the NGOs in promotion and protection of

Main debate on the role of the NGOs in promotion
and protection of HR

Catalyst, advocates

Main challenges

Accountability, transparency and fragmentation




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

There 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 organizations.

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,

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

“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 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 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

Depending on
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.   


of NGOs

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.




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