Definition (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are broadly defined as private, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations that aim to provide services for needy people and to challenge sociopolitical inequalities at local, national, or international levels. Oxfam, Greenpeace, the Red Cross, Save the Children, and Doctors Without Borders are a few high-profile NGOs that have been active in shaping climate change policies.
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Significance for Climate Change (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
An increasing number of NGOs have showed their growing interest and influence in putting the environment on the global agenda and pressuring governments, business, and international organizations to take climate change seriously. Climate change affects both developed and developing countries, but many NGOs pay extra attention to the needs of vulnerable groups in developing countries since the climate-change-induced destruction falls disproportionately on them. These impoverished people rely heavily on natural resources, such as land and sea, for survival, but climate change would cause more floods, droughts, and extreme weather, and that will destroy their livelihoods and worsen poverty. However, the adaptive capacity of developing countries is low, and their governments are not strong enough to respond effectively to the challenges posed by climate change. Some NGOs, such as Oxfam, take an environmental justice perspective, arguing that rich countries control access to carbon and are capable of protecting themselves from the ravages of climate change. In contrast, poor countries are least responsible for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but they pay the price for industrial growth in rich countries. They highlight the implicit power imbalance between rich and poor countries and between carbon haves and have-nots.
NGOs have comparative advantages in global environmental politics. First, global warming is a...
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Magrath, John, with Andrew Simms. Africa: Up in Smoke 2. London: New Economics Foundation, 2006. Offers a critical examination of the impact of climate change on Africa.
Revi, Aromar. “Climate Change Risk: An Adaptation and Mitigation Agenda for Indian Cities.” Environment and Urbanisation 20, no. 1 (2007): 207-229. Recommends interventions into India’s climate change agenda to be undertaken by NGOs. Highlights the mitigation and adaptation policies available to developing nations.
World Bank. Not If but When: Adapting to Natural Hazards in the Pacific. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2006. Gives examples of public-private partnerships in promoting mitigation and adaptation policies. Emphasizes the constraints in promoting mitigation-adaptation strategies.
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Nongovernmental Organizations (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
There is a vast diversity among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in respect to composition, methods of working, membership, and purpose. If there is a common denominator to be found, it is less in what NGOs are but rather in what they are not. As Deborah Spar and James Dail have noted, NGOs are not "states or firms; not elected or appointed" (2002, p. 173). Some have argued that this creates a "democratic deficit," meaning NGOs are self-appointed representative agencies that may not be accountable to those they represent. NGOs differ in size, focus, wealth, and working methods, as do their clientele and target groups. NGOs may be local (working within a single state), regional (working across national borders), or international. They range from one-person operations to organizations with large numbers of workers and with offices in numerous countries. Some, like Amnesty International, are membership-driven and supported largely by donations from its constituent members. Others, such as Human Rights Watch, rely primarily on foundations or single donors for the funds needed to pay operating costs. The degree to which an organization's membership base is drawn from civil society provides some clue as to what extent the organization suffers from the "democratic deficit" attributed to these "unelected" bodies.
Given the rather fluid nature of the composition of the NGO community, it can be difficult to provide a precise definition of this type of organization. The Encyclopedia of Public International Law defines NGOs as:
private organizations (associations, federations, unions, institutes, groups) not established by a government or by an international agreement, which are capable of playing a role in international affairs by virtue of their activities, and whose members enjoy independent voting rights. The members of an NGO may be individuals (private citizens) or bodies cooperate. Where the organization's membership or activity is limited to a specific state, one speaks of a national NGO and where they go beyond, of an international NGO.
In contrast, the Oxford Dictionary of Law defines an NGO as:
A private international organization that acts as a mechanism for cooperation among private national groups in both municipal and international affairs, particularly in economic, social, cultural, humanitarian, and technical fields. Under Article 71 of the United Nations Charter, the Economic and Social Council is empowered to make suitable arrangements for consultation with NGOs on matters within its competence.
This more limiting definition reasserts the notion that NGOs are international in character and serve to facilitate national organizations.
The World Bank has defined NGOs more narrowly yet, as "private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development" (Operational Directive 14.70). This definition is specific to developmental NGOs, the partner community of the World Bank.
What characterizes NGOs and makes them distinct is their nongovernmental character. They may operate within a target state or across state boundaries, or indeed internationally, but they are independent from states, and ostensibly, from state influence.
Categories of NGOs
The World Bank places NGOs into three primary groupings. There are community-based organizations (CBOs), which serve a specific population in a narrow geographic area; national organizations, which operate in individual developing countries; and international organizations, which are typically headquartered in developed countries and carry out operations in more than one developing country.
Such distinctions are useful, but each of the categories subsume a rather disparate group of NGOs. To further identify the various strands of the NGO community, Spar and Dail offer a useful typology of NGOs. They divide the NGO community along ten focus topics: health services, infrastructural services, development assistance, education, commercial services, refugee assistance, basic needs, social development, the environment, and human rights. Undoubtedly, these topics and subtopics could be expanded or subdivided further, but the typology's usefulness is twofold. First, the diversity of groups and topical areas of interest highlights just how expansive the umbrella under which NGO groups are housed actually is. Second, the typology helps to categorize NGOs by function and, flowing from this, facilitates assessment of how well they fulfill their functions.
As well as their specific focus, NGOs may also be categorized according to their modus operandi. NGOs can be divided into two groupshose that are primarily advocacy oriented and whose work is to promote a particular cause or position, and operational NGOs, mainly found in the development field, whose primary purpose is to design and implement projects. Advocacy orientated groups use lobbying or public campaigns and education to influence policies and promote action. Development organizations, which include such groups as CARE, Oxfam, and Habitat for Humanity undertake projects, such as building housing for the poor, designing and implementing well systems for clean drinking water, and building irrigation systems for crop development, to name but a few.
Role of NGOs among Global Institutions
The significance, whether global or regional, of NGOs in shaping discourse at the international level and in the development of international law is undeniable. Often nonpolitical and unencumbered by the influence of governments, NGOs have become both the conscience and the voice of international civil society. Nongovernmental organizations, whether domestic or international, figure prominently in both the creation and implementation of international law. Accordingly, the development and increasing influence of NGOs somewhat mirrors the development and influence of the international legal regime. Historically, the rise of NGO activities parallels the growth in intergovernmental organizations starting at the end of the nineteenth century and especially after World War II.
Article 71 of the UN Charter expressly acknowledges the role of NGOs in international law and development:
The Economic and Social Council [hereafter referred to as ECOSOC] may make suitable arrangements for consultation with nongovernmental organizations, which are concerned with matters within its competence. Such arrangements may be made with international organizations and, where appropriate, with national organizations after consultation with the Member of the United Nations concerned.
The impact of this measure is twofold. First, it recognized the formalized consultative relationship that NGOs had assumed with national and international bodies, both inside and outside the League of Nations, during the period 1919 to 1934. Second, and more confining, are two conditions set forth under Article 71 that, in contrast to the previous and non-formalized period of engagement, actually place limits on NGO participation. The provisions of Article 71 confine the consultation areas to those that fall within the mandate of ECOSOC. As stipulated, the relationship between NGOs and the UN is limited to one of consultation.
This distinction, [of consultative status] deliberately made in the Charter, is fundamental and the arrangements for consultation should not be such as to accord to non-governmental organizations the same rights of participation as are accorded to States not members of the Council and to the specialized agencies brought into relationship with the United Nations.
Thus, the position of NGOs and their representatives is in marked contrast to that of representatives of UN agencies, for the latter are able to "participate without vote" in ECOSOC deliberations. It is also worth noting that Article 71 specifies that engagement with national NGOs is to be made only on an exceptional basis.
The initial arrangements for consultation with NGOs were set out in ECOSOC Resolution 1296 (XLIV) on May 27, 1968. Resolution 1296 reaffirmed the international requirement of consultative status for NGOs, and noted that this status could be waived for national NGOs only when the participation of the national NGO was necessary to reflect a "balanced and effective representation of NGOs," or where that NGO had specific or "special" experience or expertise useful to the Council. ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 subsequently amended resolution 1296 on July 25, 1996, enumerating the requirements for obtaining consultative status, as well as delineating the duties and responsibilities of NGOs in consultative status. Of note, the organization must demonstrate:
- Its activities are relevant to the work of ECOSOC;
- It has a democratic decision-making mechanism;
- Is of recognized standing within the particular field of its competence or of a representative character;
- It has been in existence (officially registered with the appropriate government authorities as an NGO or non-profit agency) for at least two years; and
- Its basic resources are derived primarily from contributions of the national affiliates, individual members, or other non-governmental components.
Significantly, Resolution 1996/31 appears to lower the bar for national NGOs to obtain consultative status, because the key requirement for the status is that the organization "is not established by a governmental entity or intergovernmental agreement." However, as noted above, the organization must still be of "recognized standing," which may serve to exclude national NGOs that fail to meet that criterion. Currently there are 2,350 NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, and some 400 NGOs accredited to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), a subsidiary body of ECOSOC.
Status within International Law
There is some debate regarding the legal personality of NGOs. An entity possesses an international legal personality when it bears rights and duties under international law. Traditionally, the notion of bearing rights and responsibilities has rested primarily within the domain of states. The question is whether international law has evolved enough to recognize the role of nonstate actors. The answer may well be both yes and no. Clearly states remain the primary rights-and-duty holders in international law. Nonetheless, the evolution of international law, combined with the increasing role of NGOs in the international playing field, suggests that NGOs have obtained some form of legal personality. This would most certainly apply to the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose position is recognized in international humanitarian law treaties.
Spar and Dail reasonably posit that the categorization of NGO functions goes some way in assessing an individual NGO's effectiveness. For example, it is possible to audit NGOs that are largely operational, in that they provide a particular service to a particular community, as is true of many development-oriented NGOs. It then becomes possible to assess how well that service has been provided, and how many in the target community are served. Such an audit may calculate how many planned projects were successfully executed and, further, what mechanisms were used for follow-up (e.g., was there training of local staff).
Measuring the effectiveness of advocacy-oriented groups, however, is a much more difficult task. Certainly, such groups might be assessed according to their success of changing a piece of legislation or government policy. Alternatively, effectiveness might be measured by an NGO's success in providing expertise and effective lobbying that culminates in a new treaty or undertaking, or a change in legislation, as happened in the Landmines Campaign (which led to the Landmines Treaty), the creation of a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC), and the worldwide move toward abolition of the death penalty. However, the tangibles are often harder to codify when assessing the effectiveness of human rights NGOs. Worldwide campaigns to stop the use of child soldiers, to stop torture and extra judicial killings, to establish transitional justice processes that demand accountability for gross violations of human rights (including genocide and crimes against humanity), to free political prisoners and to secure socio-economic and cultural rights often operate on the principle of "one step forward and sometimes two steps back."
Although NGOs have increased in both numbers and professionalism, and have assumed a significant role as players within the international arena, they still are limited in a number of areas. They can only engage on the international legal level when invited to do so by states, or when allowed by provisions within an international treaty. Some international instruments and regional instruments do allow for third party interventions before courts, which allow NGOs to directly participate in the proceedings. In their work, international, and indeed some national human rights, NGOs principally draw upon the so-called International Bill of Rights, comprised of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. These primary human-rights instruments are supplemented by thematic mechanismsuch as treaties that specifically focus on the rights of women or children, or on specific forms of violations, such as torture or discriminationnd other instruments of international law to serve as guiding mechanisms for human rights NGOs. Although international human rights NGOs and some national NGOs rely on international law and are active in more than one country, the term has also been applied to national NGOs that may work only in one country and may rely on a domestic, rather than international legal framework.
Despite the rather broad sense in which the term has been applied, there are fundamental criteria that human rights organizations must meet in order to qualify for NGO status:
- It must not be established by a government or have officers or board members appointed by a government;
- It must not be funded by one government, and if the organization accepts donations from states, the donor countries must not have an influence on the decision making of the organization;
- It must be a not-for-profit organization; and
- It must have the promotion and protection of human rights as its fundamental objective.
Beyond these essential criteria, the operations, support, advocacy, research methodology, funding, and structure can differ profoundly. There are many established and respected international human-rights NGOs that merit some specific mention in the campaign against impunity.
Amnesty International (AI, at www.amnesty.org) was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson, a lawyer and activist from the United Kingdom. The organization's mission has evolved from its initial focus on specific issues within the civil and political rights arena to a broader scope, which now encompasses social, economic, and cultural rights. Although it still "concentrates on ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination," its mandate has been expanded to include investigating abuses by non-state actors, addressing issues that arise from conflict, and striving for accountability for human rights violations "in the home or community where governments have been complicit or have failed to take effective action."
The organization states that it currently has over 1.5 million members from more than 150 countries. AI's 2002 report describes its operation and structure as follows:
Its nerve center is the International Secretariat in London, with more than 410 staff members and over 120 volunteers from more than 50 countries around the world. The AI movement consists of more than 7,800 local, youth, specialist, and professional groups in over 100 countries and territories. There are nationally organized sections in 58 countries, and pre-section coordinating structures in another 22 countries and territories worldwide.
Amnesty International is a democratic movement, self-governed by a nine-member International Executive Committee (IEC) whose members are elected every two years by an International Council representing sections.
The organization distinguishes itself from other international human rights NGOs in that it is membership-based and membership-driven. During 2002 and 2003, its international budget was listed as £23,728,000 ($43,809,006 in U.S. dollars), which comes from membership fees as well as donations from trusts, private individuals, foundations, and corporations. Amnesty International does not accept money from governments.
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR, at www.lchr.org) was established in 1978. According to its mission statement, the organization works
in the U.S. and abroad to create a secure and humane world by advancing justice, human dignity, and respect for the rule of law. We support human rights activists who fight for basic freedoms and peaceful change at the local level; protect refugees in flight from persecution and repression; promote fair economic practices by creating safeguards for workers' rights; and help build a strong international system of justice and accountability for the worst human rights crimes.
The LCHR, now known as Human Rights First, has offices in both New York City and Washington, D.C. The organization is funded exclusively by private donations and does not accept government funding. Its 2001 annual budget was listed as $6.1 million. The organization is strongly supported through pro-bono work done by the legal community, which, according to their annual report was valued at $15 million in 2001.
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch (HRW, at www.hrw.org) is the largest United Statesased international human rights organization. Its organizational headquarters is in New York City and it has thirteen other offices worldwide. As of 2002, the organization employed 189 staff members as well as short-term members and fellows. In the past, HRW has distinguished itself from Amnesty International in that it had a broader mission statement. Its work includes
not only prisoner-related concerns but also many abuses that do not involve custody, such as discrimination, censorship, and other restrictions on civil society, issues of democratisation and the rule of law, and a wide array of war-related abuses, from the indiscriminate shelling of cities to the use of landmines. Human Rights Watch prides itself on aggressively expanding the categories of victims who can seek protection from our movement. Since the late 1980s, we have gradually added special programs devoted to the rights of women, children, workers, common prisoners, refugees, migrants, academics, gays and lesbians, and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Amnesty International's refocus on thematic rather than country specific issues, and the broadening of its work to include more civil and political as well as social, economic, and cultural rights, has blurred the distinction between AI and HRW, at least with regard to their individual missions. In terms of function and membership, however, HRW is very different from Amnesty International. HRW does not have a mass-membership base, whereas such a base serves as the core of Amnesty's advocacy work. For HRW, a smaller membership base, together with staff and consultants, undertakes the organization's "principal advocacy strategy." HRW's total operating revenues during 2001 and 2002 have been noted to be $21,715,000. Like its counterparts, HRW does not accept government contributions.
All Groups Not Equal?
As the sheer number of NGOs have grown, so too has their level of professionalism, earning them a role as influential actors in an increasingly globalized international community. However, the broad universe of human rights NGOs has also come to include organizations that do not fit some of the basic NGO criteria. This has prompted some within the human rights field to note, "not all human rights groups are equal." In a letter to the New York Times, Aryeh Neier, the former Executive Director of Human Rights Watch argued that there has been a "proliferation of groups claiming to speak in the name of the human rights cause, but actually engaged in efforts to promote one or another side in a civil conflict" (Steiner and Alston, 2000, p. 945). Neier's concerns are not without merit. The credibility and effectiveness of the human rights movement rests on its ability to work impartiallyn fact as well as in appearance.
Neier suggests that, in addition to the criteria previously outlined, the work of groups claiming to be human rights focused should be scrutinized to ensure that both their methodology and advocacy are of a consistently high standard. Fieldwork must be systematic and carried out in as transparent and impartial a manner as possible. When abuses occur, the organization must be willing to apply legal standards to critique and hold actors accountable for all violationshether these arise from state or non-state actors. Language used to describe the violation must have legal determinacy and must accurately reflect the level and extent of abuse. Finally, when opposing or contradictory evidence or statements are documented and are found to be credible, they should be noted.
Working against Impunity
International human rights NGOs are primarily advocacy organizations, although some national human rights groups may also have caseworkers or operate clinics that provide legal support in the domestic courts systems. Both domestic and international human rights organizations produce reports or memoranda which detail the organizations' concerns regarding an issue or practice in one or more countries. Reports are often supplemented by updates or alerts on specific countries or issues. Amnesty International, for example, produces Urgent Actions, which are bulletins used to mobilize its membership on cases that require immediate attention. Members are requested to lobby their local representatives on these issues and to engage in letterwriting campaigns to the relevant government or international actor.
Although human rights NGOs may differ slightly in their methods of collecting and disseminating information, there are some standard research procedures that can be noted. Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will routinely send staff into individual countries to investigate human rights conditions there. These field missions are normally undertaken by a specific researcher from the country or region being investigated. The reasearcher may be accompanied by independent consultants who offer specific expertise in either the region or in a specific field (e.g., forensic pathology, military, or munitions experts). Field work may involve site visitations where violations have been alleged to have occurred, interviews with witnesses and victims, collection of medical or forensic evidence (where appropriate), photo or video documentation, interviews with both state and non-state actors (where violations are said to have been undertaken by state military or opposition groups), and interviews with all appropriate other parties.
The duration of the field visitations vary significantly, and depend on the scale of the work and the breadth of topics that are to be covered. Collection and dissemination of materials to a wider audience are a large part of the advocacy work undertaken by human rights groups. As these groups do not comprise political actors and are nongovernmental, the emphasis is on the use of documentation collected as part of its public education and advocacy missions. HRW stresses that a large part of its work focuses on lobbying and its "principal advocacy strategy is to shame offenders by generating press attention and to exert diplomatic and economic pressure on them by enlisting influential governments and institutions." These claims are true for other international human rights NGOs as well. Amnesty International, on the other hand, uses its membership base as an effective means of disseminating reports and fieldwork findings and mobilizes its members to lobby.
Additionally, most international human-rights NGOs use their materials for human rights education, providing online databases of their reports and summaries for use by locally based NGOs as well as others in the field and the general public. One important aspect of the work of international human rights NGOs is the use of mass media. Although organizations approach the question of media contact differently, with some groups putting large resources toward its media work, virtually all human rights groups at local or international levels depend on the media to assist in disseminating its findings and not just as a means to further public education on a given issue. Through the use of the media, these groups reach an audience that would fall outside of the human rights advocacy networks but might be motivated to apply pressure to governments to answer questions and create the impetus for appropriate action.
Human rights NGOs are increasingly becoming players at the international level. They are no longer limited to monitoring and advocating for the respect of international law and legal mechanisms, but are now active participants in the formulation of legislation. One recent example has been NGO involvement in the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, which was held in Rome, Italy between June 15 and July 17, 1998. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights were among the hundreds of international and national NGOs in attendance. NGO contributions ranged from the technical and prescriptive to the aspirational. This conference was the result of General Assembly Resolution 52/160 of December 15, 1997, which authorised the participation of selected NGOs in the preparatory work for the establishment of the International Criminal Court.
As part of its work, the Preparatory Committee for the International Criminal Court, which included a significant number of NGOs, established a Victims' Trust Fund. Article 75, paragraph 2 of the Rome Statute allows the ICC to direct a convicted person to pay compensation to a victim. NGO participation in the drafting of the guidelines for the Victims' Trust Fund ensured that it would operate independently of the court and would be the body to distribute financial awards. The Victims' Trust Fund is supported by a Victims' Trust Fund Campaign, based in the United States and coordinated by an organization called Citizens for Global Solutions. The Victims' Trust Fund Campaign has a number of United Statesased participating organizations, including a number of national and international human rights NGOs. The conference, together with NGO participation in the preparatory work of the ICC, highlights a trend toward increased NGO participation at an almost quasi-state level.
Investigating War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and Genocide
International human rights legislation and humanitarian law remain the primary framework of human rights organizations when investigating and reporting on allegations of violations. Investigations undertaken by local and international human rights organizations into allegations of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and crimes against humanity and war crimes in Israel and the Occupied Territories (to name but a few) have provided critical and independent sources of information. Moreover, these organizations have often played central fact-finding roles that the international community was unable to fulfill.
In cases where the UN has been slow to react to gross human rights violations or has been seen to be ineffective, particularly in the case of Rwanda, international human rights NGOs have spearheaded the research and public dissemination of information, and in calling to hold alleged perpetrators accountable. The work of international NGOs, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in documenting the genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina not only provided a historical record of the events, but moved the campaign against impunity further by pressing for the establishment of the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia. A brief look at a 2002 investigation by international human rights organizations in Israel and the Occupied Territories serves to highlight the sometimes pivotal role of human rights NGOs.
Israel and the Occupied Territories
There have been a number of reports issued by international as well as locally based human rights organization that have alleged grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Territories. However, one particular series of events merits review. In March 2002, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched a new offensive, Operation Defensive Shield, in Palestinian residential areas. An Amnesty International report stated that this offensive
followed a spate of killings of Israeli civilians by Palestinian armed groups during March. According to the IDF, the purpose of the offensiveike the incursions into refugee camps, which preceded it in March and the occupation of the West Bank, which followed in Juneas to eradicate the infrastructure of "terrorism."
Enormous speculation and concern was raised with regard to the Jenin refugee camp (although this concern was not to the exclusion of other areas in the West Bank). Both the city of Jenin and the camp of the same name had been designated controlled military areas, and those who had fled the fighting that followed the IDF's incursion into the camp were suggesting that the situation within the camp was quite grave. On April 5, 2002, the UN Commission on Human Rights ordered a UN fact-finding mission be undertaken in the Occupied Territories. However, the mission was not allowed to enter Israel and was therefore disbanded. A high-level fact-finding mission that had been agreed upon by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and which had been authorized by the unanimous vote of the UN Security Council was also barred from entering Israel and was forced to disband after weeks of negotiations.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as several locally based human rights NGOs dispatched teams of investigators to the West Bank. Because the UN investigating team was not allowed into the areas of concern, the burden fell upon the international and locally based human rights organizations to undertake research and make public their findings on events surrounding the IDF operation. Human rights NGOs in the areas most affected provided critical information regarding the conditions within the camp and in Jenin, as well in other parts of the West Bank that were under Israeli military control. Moreover, using international legal instruments to guide their research and public comment, groups such as AI and HRW, were able to make preliminary assessments as to whether the IDF had operated within the laws of war and the applicable human rights framework.
Two significant reports were published as a result of these investigations. HRW released a report in May 2002, focused solely on Jenin, shortly after the IDF withdrew from the Jenin refugee camp. The report alleged grave breaches of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and suggested that a prima facie case existed for the charge that war crimes were committed. HRW listed several recommendations calling for investigations and accountability, and specifically called upon the Government of Israel to undertake a full investigation into these allegations. Further, HRW recommended that, should Israel fail in this undertaking, the international community should hold accountable those found to have violated human rights.
Amnesty International's report followed in November of that same year, and included a section on the West Bank city of Nablus. For the most part, AI's conclusions and recommendations mirrored those of HRW, but the AI report posited their findings in the wider context of its work in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Amnesty International concluded that some of the reports findings revealed part of a pattern in which many of the violations
have been committed in a widespread and systematic manner, and in pursuit of government policy (some, such as targeted killings or deportations, were carried out in pursuit of a publicly declared policy). Such violations meet the definition of crimes against humanity under international law.
These reports, together with findings from locally based human rights organizations, remain the only independently researched historical record of these events.
International human-rights organizations use existing international legal frameworks as an important guide when evaluating and presenting their research findings. Additionally, some local as well as international human-rights groups have begun to use different mediums for presenting their research findings. For example, Witness, previously a project component of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, uses videography as its primary campaigning medium. Nonetheless, the main substantive tool for research dissemination for most human rights organizations remains a written report or informational booklets, which are often preceded by report summaries and press alerts. For international human rights organizations, there is a general format to these reports.
In a 1996 article, Stanley Cohen noted that the standard report format employed by human-rights organizations contains seven fixed elements. According to him, these include expressing concern, stating the problem, setting the context, enumerating the sources and methodology employed, detailing the allegations, citing relevant international and domestic law; and calling for the required action. This outline does, in fact, capture the layout of most international human-rights organizations reports. Neither the format nor the methodology used in compiling such reports differ significantly among the larger international human rights NGOs. However, there is a great deal of variance among national and thematic international human-rights organizations regarding the quality of research and the degree to which international legal frameworks play a role in determining findings.
The Challenges Ahead
The challenges that face human rights NGOs in large part mirrors the broader challenges facing internal human-rights and humanitarian legal mechanisms. The attempt to sideline, ignore, or challenge the relevance of human rights and humanitarian law, under the guise of state security and the need to combat the global threat of terrorism has gathered momentum. The adversarial relationship between the protection of human rights and the question of state sovereignty, traditionally fought between human rights NGOs and repressive state regimes, has now been extended to democratic or quasi-democratic states, which view the interference of international legal regimes as an impediment to state security and the fight against terrorism. The very public unpacking and demoting of international legal protections is particularly evident, although not unique to, the events that followed September 11, 2001.
SEE ALSO Documentation; Evidence; Humanitarian Intervention; Human Rights; International Committee of the Red Cross; United Nations
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