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INTD 200 (186)

NGOs and Civil Society

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International Development
INTD 200
Warren Allmand

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2012: Canada and US both have not ratified the American Convention on Human Right, and NGOs in Canada have been working to get Canada to ratify it. The reason they give for ratifying is that human rights are at the federal and provincial level, and they can’t get enough agreement from provinces (but they haven’t worked that hard to convince the provinces). They also say that they’ve ratified enough other conventions so Canadians are well covered, but they could be contributing and lending their weight to the regional human rights efforts. The current government may also feel that the more they ratify, the more international onlookers looking over their shoulder and critiquing them.  The US has not ratified it because under the American constitution, the Senate is responsible for ratifying treaties (and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). In recent years the chair of the Senate Committee has been very conservative and hasn’t been interested in foreign treaties. o Bill Clinton signed the International Criminal Court treaty and it was killed in the senate, and Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in creating the league of nations but the senate wouldn’t agree to that either.  NGOs and Civil Society organizations are probably the most important element in advancing human rights across the world—they advocate, promote, monitor, help enforce, assign with complaints and communications, help draft instruments and policies, etc. They are a bridge between the people and government, and between the citizens of the world and international organizations.  What is Civil Society?  NGOs are one element of civil society. Civil society is “the sum of all non-family institutions which are autonomous and independent of the state and capable of influencing public opinion.”  It includes NGOs, trade unions, academia, professional organizations (bar association), church and religious institutions, the media, and political parties. There is some debate on if business organizations should be included.  What gives them legitimacy?  In the Charter of the UN, it starts with “we the people,” not “we the government” or “we the institutions,” so that gives them legitimacy.  The preamble of the UDHR it says “as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance,” which is addressing “the people.”  All of the freedoms in the UDHR and the Convetions (freedom of association, expression, speech, etc.) apply to NGOs and civil society organizations as well.  UN Charter Article 71: “the Economic and Social Council may make suitable arrangements for consultation with non-governmental 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.” o This says the UN can and should make arrangements with NGOs whose mandates overlap with the UN’s issues (human rights, war and peace, development).  NGOs:  The first was called the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society of 1823, and its goal was to abolish slavery in Britain and in the empire. In 1838, the British Parliament passed the Abolition of Slavery Act. That same NGO still exists as Anti Slavery International.  There are NGOs that deal with every different issue (ex. Oxfam, Amnesty International (1961), Human Rights Watch (1978), Red Cross (1873), Medicines Sans Frontiers, etc.)  Article 19 is an NGO that has to do with Freedom of Expression. Pen International is an NGO for poets, playwrights, etc. concerned with combatting censorship.  From 1990-2003 they grew
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