Role of non-governmental organisations(NGO) in the protection of human rights

Role of non-governmental organisations(NGO) in the protection of human rights

No study of human rights in independent India can complete without specific mention of the role of the Non-Government Organization’s (herein after referrers as NGO’s) in exposing instances of human rights violation for suitable action by the Government.  Since the end of the Second World War and most especially since the end of the 1970’s, there has been an explosive emergence of local, national and international voluntary organizations working for the promotion and protection of human rights on every continent and in almost every country in the world. These NGO’s vary enormously in their membership, leadership and purposes, in the scope of their activities and programmes and in the influence or impact they have in domestic, regional or international arenas

Now a days, there is a wide range of Non Government Organisation’s working in India in various fields relating to human rights, specifically in the field of child welfare, environment, bonded labour, women rights, health, disabled rights, education, labour welfare, welfare of indigenous people and the rehabilitation of manual scavengers.  Besides the groups which are specifically involved to respond to the lawlessness of the State, there are hundreds of groups struggling for distributive justice.  There are also advocacy and support groups.

The exceptional role of Non-Governmental Organisations in furthering human rights is given appropriate and special recognition in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.  Sec.12 (i) of the said Act, expressly charges the Commission to ‘encourage the efforts of non-governmental organisations and institution as working in the field of human rights’.  This is a responsibility which the Commission readily assumes, for the cause has much to gain both from the practical help and from the constructive criticisms that NGO’s and the Commission can bring to bear in their mutual interaction and growing relationship.

There are many ways in which the relationship of the National Human Rights Commission with NGO’s can be further strengthened.  As the Commission increasingly begins to concentrate on specific human rights problems i.e. child labour or bonded labour, it is normal that it should turn to NGO’s having specialised knowledge in such fields.  The Commission has already had the benefit of interacting with a large number of NGO’s, both Indian and foreign, certain of them have brought complaints that are under consideration by the Commission. Yet others have helped the Commission by their reports and publication and by their vigilance in the defence of human rights.

In the development of the working relationship, the Commission is particularly grateful to NGO’s for coming forward with complaints regarding the  violations of human rights. Analysis of the complaints received by the Commission indicates that over 200 NGO’s were involved in the submission of such complaints which were received from all parts of the country.  The Commission would like to further rationalise and expand its arrangements of co-operation with NGO’s.  It firmly believes that the promotion and protection of human rights require the courage and commitment that NGO’s bring to their endeavours and it is for this reason that the Commission has consistently taken the position that the country has much to gain by encouraging their efforts, whether the NGO’s be national or foreign.

Frequently, the NGO’s provided the impetus for the Commission’s efforts in regard to the special problems of dalits, tribals, child labour, child prostitution, the conditions of refugees and other vulnerable groups.  The issue of jail reforms, too, attracted major NGO participation, as did their concern with issues of human rights areas of insurgency or terrorism.  The work of Non-Governmental Organisations is central to the spread of human rights awareness and the articulation and the defence of human rights. Indeed, the efforts of NGO’s and the Commission are complementary, in a relationship that is at once both constructive and critical.

No field of activity of the Commission now remains insulated from NGO’s, whose advice has also been sought on ways to make the Commission more effective.  The Commission receives number of public interest complaints from NGO’s and they have often been associated with aspects of investigations undertaken by the Commission.  Further, in respect of projects and programmes, the list grows of NGO’s working closely with the Commission, particularly in respect of serious societal issues relating, inter alia, to matters such as child labour, bonded labour, child prostitution, literacy and human rights education, health care, malnutrition, the rights of women, and of vulnerable and marginalised groups, the problems of Dalits and Tribals.

The major problem with the Indian NGO’s is that there is a lack of co-ordination of their activities in terms of their fields, territorial areas and target groups.  Hence, to co-ordinate and channalise the efforts of NGO’s working in the field of human rights and to make known their contribution to the outside world, the National Human Rights Commission has compiled a National Register of NGO’s working in human rights area.

To encourage the efforts of NGO’s, working in the field of human rights is a statutory responsibility of the Commission.  The promotion of protection of human rights cannot possibly gather the momentum it requires without the fullest co-operation between the Commission and NGO’s.  NGO’s are closely involved with the Commission through the complaints they submit to it and through seminars and work shops in human rights related matters.

The Function of NGO’s in the Human Rights Arena:

NGO’s in the human rights arena perform a wide variety of functions. These will vary with the differing political, social, economic and cultural situation in which NGO’s find themselves. The strategies and tactics the NGO’s will employ, will be different from the issues of NGO’s in situation of intense political repression, or of NGO’s in the third world countries facing such multiple crisis as famine, ecological degradation, foreign debt, ethnic violence, lawlessness and corruption.

1 Information Gathering, Evaluation and Dissemination:

One of the most important functions performed by NGO’s engaged in human rights work is that of monitoring the behavior of the State and of other power elites of gathering, evaluating and dissemination of information. In the process of exposing human rights violation, the importance of information emerges in part from the paradox that is central to the human rights struggle.

In the recent years, the information or fact-finding function of NGO’s has under serious scrutiny, especially from the Governments charge with committing violations and from their supporters. As a consequence, many in the human rights community have been sensitized to the need for their data, to pass tests of validity and reliability. NGO’s have monitored the behavior of armed opposition or terrorists.

Finally, with respect to information, it is important to recognize that often in a better position than Government agencies both to collect and to assess information with respect to the observance of economic, social and cultural are critical preconditions for effective action in the area of human rights to have a policy impact that information needs to be discreminated.

Advocacy to stop Abuses and Secure Redress:

Advocacy means actively taking up the case of those, whose rights are violated. For a human rights organization, advocacy may speaking out for the voiceless and it entails expanding and making more visible what may be only a blatant conflict.

Legal Aid, Scientific Expertise and Humanitarian Assistance:

Organizations concerned with human rights have also been engaged in a broad range of activities which can be grouped under the heading of humanitarian assistance. This may involve sending food, clothes or reading material to political prisoners, extending material to aid to the families of such prisoners providing emergency relief to refugees and internally displaced persons, providing shelter for the homeless for street children.

Keeping open the Political System:

On the whole, human rights NGO’s are not mass based organization. Human Rights NGO’s are very much involved in political struggle in as much as the struggle for human rights, struggle about power and its control. The human rights organization is different because its purpose is largely to keep the political process open and to keep the Government accountable so that the power is not inordinately centralized or abused.

Building Solidarity:

NGO’s and People’s organization on the front line in human rights struggle are often both highly vulnerable and highly isolated. Building solidarity across the different sectors of society between workers and peasants, women organization, organizations of indigenous peoples and across ethnic and religious groups is a task taken on, by much organization working in the human rights arena. In heterogeneous societies, many NGO’s recognize that change will come only by a radical restricting of the social order. Hence, efforts are directed towards information sharing and networking as a first step by such creating solidarity.

Education, Concretization or Empowerment:

NGO’s have come to realize that people cannot defend their rights unless they know their rights. It is increasingly felt that human rights can play a significant role in the empowerment of the impoverished. The educational efforts that engage NGO’s in the human rights area, tend to be at the non-formal level, rather than the formal school setting and involve consultations, workshops and seminars and training courses for women, trade unionist, peasants, and the indigenous or church people. New methodologies have been developed, especially for reaching the illiterate, including street theatre, comic books, film poster competitions, folk music.

In case of repression cases, it is possible to consider long-range objectives, education, conscientization and empowerment move to a priority position in the human rights agenda as the best hope for the future.

Legislation to Incorporate or Develop Human Rights Standards:

At the International and regional level, the burden of legislative drafting has fallen to international human rights NGO’s which have been playing an increasingly important in this area. The NGO’s are often engaged in drafting legislative proposals, preparing position papers on pending legislation and testifying before Parliamentary or other Government Committees. Today, NGO’s working groups closely follow the drafting of new international human rights, legislation- treaties, declaration, and guidelines and make major inputs into the process. They plan an equally important role in identifying defining new issues and areas requiring the legislation.