The term non-governmental organisation (NGO) refers to an organisation that is legally constituted, established by natural or legal persons and operates independently from any government (Donnelly, 2003). In their operations, NGOs do not focus on making profit. In cases where they are partially or fully funded by governments, they maintain their non-governmental status. Precisely, they avoid government influence in their decisions by excluding governmental representatives in their memberships. Often, this term is given to organisations that focus on social, economic and political issues but with no political interests (Goodale, 2008).
There is a huge number of NGOs operating at local, national, regional and international levels. These organisations focus on different but specific social, economic and political issues. This paper examines seven NGOs that operate at an international level focus on issues related to human rights, namely: Amnesty International, Human Rights Foundation, Human Rights Watch, World Organisation Against Torture, Journalists for Human Rights, Centre of Housing Rights and Evictions and Freedom House. The paper analyses the different approaches taken by these organisations to deal with issues related to human rights. Out of these organisations, it has been established that Amnesty International, Centre of Housing Rights and Evictions and Human Rights Watch have had the most influence in terms of both public opinion and government policy on the issue of human rights.
This is one of the most populous NGOs with over 3 million members globally. It was founded in 1961 in London. The objective of the organisation is to draw attention to abuses of human rights and to compel governments, non-governmental bodies and private individuals to comply with international laws and standards (Amnesty International, 2012). It achieves this by mobilising public opinion to put pressure on individuals, governments and non-governmental organisations that perpetrate or let abuse of human rights to take place. Further, Amnesty International conducts research on abuses of human rights and uses the findings to generate actions that help to prevent grave abuses. Information about human rights abuses is collected from victims, local human rights activists, observing trials, and from the media. Sometimes, the organisation sends officials to countries to make enquiries related to human rights abuses (Amnesty International, 2012).
The organisation also makes sure that justice is accorded to those who are found to be victims of human rights abuse. It protects the rights of prisoners by ensuring that prison conditions meet international human rights standards and ensuring that the prisoners are given prompt and fair trials. It helps to fight impunity from justice systems both at national and international levels. Amnesty International focuses on six key areas namely ending torture, human dignity protection, abolition of the death penalty, and protection of the rights of the rights of children, women, indigenous groups and minorities. This explains the fact that Amnesty International is one of the most influential NGOs in mobilising the public against acts of human rights violence. According to the organisation’s website, Amnesty International (2012), the organisation has the longest history in the field of international human rights. It was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for its successful campaign against torture in various regions in the world (Lauren, 2011).
Human Rights Foundation
This International NGO is based in New York, USA and was founded in 2005 by Thor Halvorssen (Human Rights Foundation, 2012). Its main objective is to ensure that freedom for all people is preserved and promoted especially in North and South America. It aims at uniting all people regardless of their cultural, ideological or political orientations. The organisation ensures that all people are allowed to speak their thoughts freely. It also ensures that they are given freedom to worship and to join religions of their choices. It promotes the rights of all people to associate freely with those of like mind and to join social groups of their choices, whose intentions are far from engaging in illegal acts. It ensures that all people are given freedom to acquire and dispose properties without undue interference.
Further, Human Rights Foundation promotes the rights of people to enter and leave their own country and to be treated equally under law. According to Human Rights Foundation (2012), the organisation promotes the rights of any citizen to participate in the government of their nation. It promotes freedom of all individuals from coercion or interference in matters of conscience, freedom from slavery, freedom from any kind of torture and freedom from arbitrary detainment. According to the organisation’s website, HRF gathers information mainly by conducting research from the public about human rights abuses. It then engages in campaigns aiming to influence public opinion against acts of abuse of human rights.
Human Rights Watch
This is also an international NGO with headquarters in New York City, the USA and has offices in Washington, Berlin, Brussels, Beirut, Chicago, Johannesburg, Geneva, London, Moscow, Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, San Francisco and Toronto. It comprises lawyers, country experts, academics and journalists and operates in more than 90 nations globally (Human Rights Watch, 2011). The organisation was founded in 1978 in America as a private NGO and addressed human rights abuses by the governments of America and the former Soviet Union. It expanded later in 1980s to include Africa Watch, Asia Watch and Middle East Watch and formed the current Human Rights Watch. The organisation opposes violation of basic human rights all over the world. Precisely, it opposes any kind of discrimination that is based on an individual’s sexual orientation, opposes capital punishment and advocates for freedom of the press and religion (Human Rights Watch, 2011).
According to Human Rights Watch (2011), Human Rights Watch conducts research on issues related to human rights abuses and produces reports which are used to draw international attention to the practices. It influences public opinion which helps to pressure governments and other international organisations to act against the perpetrators of human rights abuses. It is therefore one of the most influential organisations on public opinion regarding the issue of human rights. The organisation conducts deep investigations on situations surrounding political suspects and generates adequate coverage both in the local and international media (Human Rights Watch, 2011). In addition, the NGO provides support to writers who are persecuted for their work. The writers are provided with basic needs and financial assistance. Further, the organisation raises international awareness of such individuals who are being silenced for boldly fighting against abuses of human rights. In the past, Human Rights Watch was active in the making of international conventions that banned the use of weapons of mass destruction.
World Organisation Against Torture
This is a coalition of almost 300 local, national regional and international NGOs fighting against human rights abuse. It is the world’s largest network of NGOs that promotes respect for human rights (World Organisation Against Torture, 2009). The group of organisations fights against torture, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention and forced disappearances. The network has a ‘Prevention of Torture’ programme which enables the members to report and prevent any forms of torture through effective interaction with United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms. The members provide reports to the committee of this programme, which are then submitted to the UN committees and used as tool for action. Members of local NGOs are also included in the committee that makes reports for this programme especially on specialised issues such as children and women torture (World Organisation Against Torture, 2009).
The programme also provides support for organisations and individuals who wish to challenge torture acts in international legal forums. It establishes effective complaint mechanisms which help in the protection of victims or individuals under threat, obtaining compensation and reparations for victims of torture and pressuring governments and nongovernmental organisations to end impunity in certain cases and make changes in state practices and legislations that lead to violations of human rights. The network of organisations increases awareness of people on human rights abuses by publishing practical guides on local, regional and international conventional mechanisms related to torture. It also submits research reports on acts of torture of women and children to the UN human rights mechanisms and publishes such issues to increase public awareness (World Organisation Against Torture, 2009).
Journalists for Human Rights
This is an international media development organisation headquartered in Toronto, Canada and has offices in Monrovia, Liberia; Kinshasa, DR Congo and Freetown, Sierra Leone (Journalists for Human Rights, 2009). It also has representatives in the UK and in the US. It was founded in 2002 and has established human rights programmes within 16 African countries. The main objective of this NGO is to make everyone aware of their rights and the acts that constitute violation of those rights. The mission of this NGO states that this is the first and the most important step in ending human rights abuses. It therefore informs people in all countries about human rights and mobilises media to spread awareness of human rights. It has established awareness programmes for human rights through local media partners. In Africa, such programmes are estimated to reach over 20 million people every week. Further, the organisation empowers minorities and marginalised groups to stand up for their rights, to speak out about cases of abuse and to protect themselves from rights abuses. The NGO also trains journalists on matters related to human rights, and it has trained over 2000 of them and helped to produce more than 3000 stories related to human rights issues in Africa alone (Journalists for Human Rights, 2009).
Centre of Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
This is international human rights NGO based Geneva, with many more offices in the US, Brazil, Ghana, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Cambodia. The organisation was established in 1994 and has been carrying out its work through three main regional programmes in America, Asia and Africa (COHRE, 2007). Through these programmes, this organisation has joined forces with local communities, NGOs and committed professionals to ensure that all people enjoy housing rights. It has also five thematic programmes focusing on housing and land restitution, social, cultural and economic rights of all people, forced evictions, women and their housing rights, and rights to clean water and sanitation. Precisely, the main objective of COHRE is to make sure that all people fully enjoy human rights including access to housing everywhere and to prevent forced evictions of people from their homes or lands (COHRE, 2007).
COHRE collects relevant information about violations of human rights which is used as a tool for action. It sends its officials to collect facts in key countries of focus. They conduct local investigations, hold interviews with the parties involved, examine laws and policies surrounding such issues and conduct any additional research needed to compile accurate reports about land and housing rights violations in specific situations. COHRE uses the information collected to draw conclusions and to offer recommendations and alternatives. This research is conducted in collaboration with local partners. The data collected is also used for consultation purposes and negotiations with key players and local governments (COHRE, 2007).
In some situations, COHRE publishes the reports in order to mobilise the affected communities to pressure the relevant governments to end practices of human rights violations or to introduce new laws, policies and programmes that make ensure that all people enjoy housing rights. Where local groups and communities engage in campaigns and protests against housing rights violations, the organisation assists them to write formal protest letters to relevant governments, to present submissions to government missions, to expose their grievances through the media and to launch non-violent joint action campaigns. For this reason, COHRE has become one of the most influential NGOs in pressuring governments to act against acts of human rights abuses and in rallying public opinion against such acts. In extreme situations of housing rights violations, where relevant governments fail to act, the country is included in announcements about human rights violators made by the organisation every year. This approach has proved to be effective in the past in making international awareness of housing rights violations, thereby shaming the perpetrators, while at the same time highlighting the importance of promoting housing rights for all by governments and individuals. Where necessary, COHRE submits these reports to UN human rights mechanisms as well as to other regional and international bodies which help to put pressure to relevant governments to act (COHRE, 2007).
Further, COHRE provides extensive training to local partners including workers of local NGOs and groups, government officials, judges and lawyers. It offers various training programmes tailored to meet the needs of the different groups but which relate to housing rights. It also pushes for policy and legislative reforms at regional and international levels to ensure that housing rights are fully protected. COHRE also offers legal advice on domestic cases related to violation of housing rights and in case domestic courts fail to provide adequate remedy, it assists in taking the cases before regional and international judicial forums (COHRE, 2007).
This NGO is based in Washington, D.C. in the US and was established in 1941. The mission of this organisation is to carry out research and to promote and advocate for political freedom and democracy (Mutua, 2009). The organisation conducts research on issues related to human rights all over the world and publishes annual reports on the basis of the information collected. In the past, Freedom House has assisted citizens in various nations to oppose dictatorial regimes such as in the cases of Chile and Central America. It also helped to end apartheid in South Africa, genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, and the Soviet War in Afghanistan. It also assisted in ending brutal violation of human rights in Iraq, Burma and Cuba (Mutua, 2009).
Freedom House has been very active in advocating for the rights of political activists, journalists, religious believers and trade unionists. In the past, it has also been involved in the establishment of international bodies that oppose violations of human rights such as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) (Mutua, 2009). More recently, Freedom House has supported citizens in achieving successful revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Serbia, Libya, Ukraine, Serbia and Kyrgyzstan (Mutua, 2009). Generally, the organisation has been regarded as a reliable source, though its critics have accused it of biasness for promoting the interests of US government abroad.
In conclusion, there is a huge number of NGOs in the world which dedicate themselves to protecting the rights of human beings and ending acts of abuses of human rights. One common aspect of most of these organisations is that they conduct research on issues related to violation of human rights and use the information as a tool of action. However, they usually focus on different aspects of human rights and employ different approaches while dealing with the different aspects of human rights. Amnesty International and Human rights Foundation fight against all forms of violation of human rights. Human Rights Watch focuses on freedom of religion and expression, opposes capital and discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. World Organisation Against Torture focuses on practices that amount to human torture, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances. Journalists for Human Rights focuses primarily on making people aware of their rights and empowers minority and marginalised groups to oppose any practices that amount violation of their rights. COHRE focuses on housing rights while Freedom House advocates for political freedom and democracy. Though all of these organisations have influenced public opinion and policies adopted by governments in one way or another, Amnesty International, Centre of Housing Rights and Evictions and Human Rights Watch have been the most influential. This is because they have been most successful and most frequently engaged in activities meant to convince citizens, national governments, supranational bodies and United Nations to adopt their policies on human rights, compared to the other NGOs discussed.
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