NGO Diplomacy or Advocacy? NGOs gather information; evaluate and disseminate information; set standards; advocate; and lobby. When conceptualizing NGO human rights and humanitarian diplomacy, it is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between diplomacy and advocacy. Another advocacy related aspect of NGO diplomacy relates to norm creation, norm promotion, and agenda setting by participating in transnational advocacy networks.
NGOs as Subcontractors States and IGOs often turn to NGOs to help the carry out public policy. States and IGOs often rely on NGOs to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations experiencing war, violent conflict, or natural disasters. One difficulty is the securitization of aid, which means that the security interests of donor states often determine NGO relief activities. This can compromise the legitimacy and neutrality of NGOs and affect their ability to negotiate humanitarian space.
NGOs as Vehicles for Citizen Diplomacy The concept of citizen diplomacy came into vogue during the Cold War and it meant that citizens have a responsibility to be unofficial ambassadors for their countries. It has since evolved to mean how ordinary citizens can shape policy. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is illustrative of this concept. The Convention on the Prohibition and the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (also known as the Ottawa Treaty or Mine Ban Treaty) began in 1996.
Human Rights NGOs Relatively few (approximately 250) NGOs consider the advancement human rights and humanitarian principles to be their primary focus. Amnesty International In its first few years, Amnesty International used letter-writing campaigns to advocate for the release of prisoners of conscience. The organization is comprised of over three million members worldwide and has regional hubs that carry out research and advocacy activities. Human Rights Watch Began in 1978 as Helsinki Watch, an organization whose mission was to help citizen groups on the ground to monitor the Soviets compliance to human rights.
NGO Human Rights Diplomacy: Strategy and Tools The lobbying of governmental and intergovernmental public officials can be both direct and indirect. NGOs often have an indirect effect on policy through their expert testimony before legislative and executive bodies. NGOs will turn to national courts in order to affect policy especially when they lack the resources or the contacts to properly lobby legislative and executive officials. They do this by becoming party to a case, which, in the US can be difficult because of the “standing” issue. Standing means that in order to bring a case in court, petitioners have to show harm.
NGO Human Rights Diplomacy: Strategy and Tools cont’d. Another strategy involves filing amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs. Traditional methods of shaping public opinion include letters-to-the-editor, opinion editorials, open letters, and expert news commentary.
Humanitarian NGOs Humanitarian NGOs aim to reach populations that are affected by conflict, disaster, and crisis whether through coordinating efforts from headquarters or distributing aid on the ground. A large part of their work centers on raising money and finding supplies to ensure that resources are available when a crisis hits and access has been granted. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are two of the larger, more respected humanitarian NGOs with global reach.
Humanitarian NGOs cont’d. The International Committee of the Red Cross The ICRC was established in 1863 to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are affected by armed conflict and to promote laws to protect those the “victims of war.” The ICRC is an independent and neutral organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its mandate is derived from Geneva Conventions of 1949 and it is principally involved with assisting the victims of war (prisoners of war, the wounded, and civilian and other noncombatants.) Today, the organization is comprised of 12,000 people in 80 countries. National societies and their International Federation form the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
Humanitarian NGOs cont’d. Médecins Sans Frontières MSF is a humanitarian NGO that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflicts, natural disasters, and complex emergencies and operates under the principles of neutrality, impartiality, and medical ethics. It is comprised of thousands of medical and logistical staff members working in over 70 countries.
Discussion Questions How do human rights and humanitarian NGOs differ in their diplomatic approach? What are the diplomatic functions of human rights NGOs? What kinds of strategies and tools to the use? How does quiet diplomacy help and hinder the activities of humanitarian NGOs? How useful is NGO network diplomacy if major states reject the aims and goals of diplomacy?