The power to make the rules: NGOs’ increasing importance (Fifth in a series)

How Many More? Skull and Crossbones

How Many More? Photo Courtesy of Vaticanus

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come to play an increasingly important role in the creation of international norms.

They lobby. They fax or e-mail heads of states and governments, and United Nation security council member states. There are demonstrations, marches and media appeals. Anti-globalization (or, global justice movement) activists in late 1999 in Seattle stopped delegates from attending World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings. Often, NGOs will also write reports on countries or laws. But NGOs don’t always oppose government organizations.

NGOs can be key to the creating international law. Experts from Amnesty International, among other NGOs, helped to write the Convention of the Abolition of Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that strengthening ties to NGOs is necessary “to give full opportunities to non-governmental organizations and other non-state actors to make their indispensable contribution to the [United Nations] Organization’s work.”

Recently, NGO activity has been noted in the Global Compact, a UN program that focuses on improving labour standards, human rights and environmental protection. This program sees NGOs represented at the same discussions that big businesses and governments attend, providing input into the improvement of international laws and norms. Is this more than the UN could accomplish alone?

The UN has access to better resources but the UN is also a slow-moving organization, limited by politics. NGOs, on the other hand, are able to provide necessary housing, clean water, sanitation, medical aid and economic development at a fraction of the time and cost.

This is not work for the faint of heart. Rick Craig, of the Justice Education Society, has seen things that would wither weaker hearts, he told Gary Mason in an interview for the Globe and Mail.

In his work, Craig travels extensively, helping to build viable legal systems out of the disaster of civil war. Right now, he is focused on Guatemala.

“We’re dealing with the dark side here,” he was quoted as saying.

There are carjackings, murders, gang activity and drug abuse, and the system is ill-equipped to deal with prosecution of those crimes. Where the UN has the ability to extradite and charge leaders for their part in the crimes against humanity, the Justice Education Society works at change from within.

“We’ve helped the governments there make some real advances,” Craig said.

• • •

The sixth article in this series will be a Q&A with a focus on domestic efforts abroad and the challenges faced internally.

Kristin Unger

Kristin Unger is an aspiring political journalist in her third year of a Political Science Bachelor's Degree at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Be first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.