The ethics of international human rights non-governmental organizations

Authored by: Daniel A. Bell

Handbook of Human Rights

Print publication date:  September  2011
Online publication date:  February  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415480239
eBook ISBN: 9780203887035
Adobe ISBN: 9781134019083


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International human rights and humanitarian non-governmental organizations (INGOs) are major players on the world stage. An INGO is defined here as an organization with substantial autonomy to decide upon and carry out human rights and/or humanitarian projects in different regions around the world. According to this definition, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, for example, is an INGO because it has substantial autonomy to decide upon and carry out projects in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere (though its funds come largely from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and most of its staff is Danish). The core mission of a human rights INGO is to criticize human rights violations and/or promote human rights in various ways (in contrast, say, to religious organizations that may promote human rights as a by-product of missionary work). Humanitarian organizations may employ the normative language of human rights, but they are distinguished by what they do, that is providing immediate assistance to those whose rights (especially the rights to food and decent health care) are being violated. These missions often overlap in practice, and some organizations, such as OXFAM, do both. INGOs fund human rights projects, actively participate in human rights and humanitarian work, and criticize human rights violations in foreign lands. They work in cooperative networks with each other, with local NGOs, and with international organizations. They consult and lobby governments and international organizations, sometimes participating in high-level negotiations and diplomacy for global policy development. They cooperate and negotiate with economic and political organizations in the field for the implementation of their projects, whether this be monitoring or assistance. In short, they are generating a new type of political power, the purpose of which is to secure the vital interests of human beings on an international scale, regardless of state boundaries.

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