In far before adoption of the Universal Declaration

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 explore definition of the 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.

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Definition
of non-governmental organizations

Non-governmental
organizations (hereinafter – NGO) are intermediary among individuals, international
organizations and governments. They are part of the civil society, which is broader
concept that includes interest groups, religious associations, trade union and
et cetera. When it comes to definition, there is no universally accepted
definition of non-governmental organizations, and the term carries different
connotations in different context. However, the definition of non-governmental
organizations has some fundamental features: NGOs should be independent from
any governmental influence and control. In addition, NGO must be non-political,
not for profit and non-violent (Willetts, n.d.). 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 will explore one specific type of
non-governmental organizations, namely human rights NGOs.

According to the Wiseberg, human
rights nongovernmental organization can be identified as a private association
which devotes significant resources to the promotion and protection of human
rights, which is independent of both governmental and political groups that
seek direct political power, and which does not itself seek such pow (Wiseberg, 1991).  The more specific definition of human rights NGO
is given by Martin Olz: “Generally, for an NGO to be considered as human rights
NGO it should be of private character and its work should be guided by the idea
of international human rights as set forth in the UN Declaration of Human
Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and other instrument
of international law” (Olz, 1997). The
latter definition of human rights NGO is used in the context of this essay.

 

Legal
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”. These two rights
are essential elements of the purpose and existence 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 multilateral diplomacy. According to Frantz and Martens, the UN decided to
specifically mention non-governmental actors in its Charter of 1945 as many
representatives of NGOs have helped to develop the UN Charter and through
Article 71 international community of sovereign States wanted to recognize the
role of NGOs1.

Why
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 them2.
States even less interested in working with the other states in the protection
and promotion of human rights3.  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.

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 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.

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 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.

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