Monday, April 30, 2007

Various Roles of National And International Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Relation to the Promotion and Protection of ESCR

A. Introduction

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) plays important role to promote and protect human rights.[1] In term of international law of human rights, the role of NGOs introduced and based on the article 71 (Chapter X) of the United Charter (UN) and Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Resolution 1296 (XLIV) of 1968. Then, in 1996, 49th plenary meeting on 25 July, the ECOSOC reaffirmed the importance of the contributions of NGOs working with UN.[2][3] By the ECOSOC Decision 1996/297, NGOs are given justification to participate to all spheres of work of the UN.[4] ECOSOC also enacted Resolution of 1996/31 regulating Consultative Relation between the UN and NGOs.

In period of 1990s, the UN conducted a series of international conferences related to the topic of ECSR. For example, the UN conducted conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, 1992. About 700 NGOs participated on the preparatory process, the conference it self, and in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.[5] A year later, 1993, about 840 NGOs participated in the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.

The role of NGOs it is not only considered by UN, but also by a government. NGO representatives who participated in the Conference on Social Development in Copenhagen and the Conference on Women in Beijing accounted as a part of the official delegation of many government. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (hereinafter the Committee) calls the Government to work together with NGOs to protect and promote ECSR.

This paper elaborates and describes the role of NGOs in relation to the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights. It describes at least three roles of NGOs: to defend claim of ESCR, to monitor implementation of these rights and disseminate information related with rights. There are many strategies which can be done by national and international NGOs. These efforts could contribute to history of promotion and protection these rights. However, it also should be considered limitations of such activities.

B. The role of NGOs

B.1. Hand in hand with people to struggle defend the ESCR

One of important roles for NGOs activist is struggling to what is called by Antonio Gramsci as counter hegemony. This term as Lynne Lawner refer to:

“…the Gramscian concept par excellence and the very fulcrum of his thought, is pictured as an equilibrium between civil society and political society – more specifically still, as an equilibrium between “leadership” or “direction” (direzione) based on consent, and “domination” (dominazione) based in coercion in the broader sense.”[6]

NGOs and people should do counter-hegemony concerning two things: the idea of civil and political rights is more important than ESCR and a market integration a process seems to prioritize welfare and social justice. The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action can be a reference for them struggling against hegemony state which neglect ESCR as well as non-state actors conducting international trade.[7] In fact, on the 57th Session of the Human Rights Commission (19 March – 27 April 2001) can be seen the Southern Countries disappointed concerning global market system.

It can be argued that working in grass root level is prerequisite for NGOs activists. From the field, NGOs can understand and feel victim’s aspiration. The judicial process is not the only way to achieve ESCR, but NGOs have to figure out alternatives to pressure a state and private sector to respect these rights. For instance, NGOs activist should give a justification for peasant movement who reclaim their land that was seized in the name of investments and development.

B.2. Monitoring or “watch dog”

NGOs can arrange and submit “alternative” report to the Committee.[8] This document is a review process concerning the report which is made by Member State.[9] NGOs which work at grass root level perhaps knowing the real problem locally. Beside this, they understand the weakness and strengthen of state to fulfill and implement ESCR. This role helps the Committee to examine and evaluate Member State reports.

The collaboration between the Committee and NGOs often gives political impact. For instance, their collaboration arranged the preliminary conclusions on the Dominican Republic release in November 1996.[10] The document issued by the Committee triggered a national discussion on the rights to adequate housing and public pressure against the government to allow a technical assistance mission on the rights to housing to entry the country.[11]

In general, NGOs can submit oral and written submissions to the Committee anytime although a state is not being subject of review process. A very good example is what have be done by the Sidney advocates. Although Australia was not scheduled for review process until November 2000, the Sidney advocates campaign ESCR violation and the impact on Sydney residents of the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics.[12] In the Committee meeting in May, the Sidney[13] advocate provided oral and written submission and encourage the Committee to write letter of concern to the Government. The Committee’s letter gave a message that the international community monitor the Government and put the facts as an input for the Committee on the upcoming review.

NGOs do not only give an input to UN and its agencies but also have role to monitor the follow up from the documents which are resulted in international and national machinery of human rights protection. In Southern America, for instance, this role are contained in a document which is called "Plataforma Sudamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo" (South American Platform of Human Rights Democracy and Development).[14] In addition, NGOs have also opportunity to work with various specialized UN body related with ESCR such as ILO and UNESCO.[15]

B.2. Educating, Promoting and Campaign

NGOs have also three roles as educator, promoter and campaigner of ESCR.[16] These roles including education research and study concerning these rights. There are many examples dealt with these roles such as the project to make thesaurus of ESCR which is conducted by the American association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Human Rights Information and Documentation System, International (HURRIDOCS).[17] As Paul Hunt says the collaboration between NGOS, professional institution and scholars has succeeded addressing the Limburg principle on the Implementation of the ICESCR (1986), the Banglore (ICJ) Declaration and Plan of Action (1995), and the Maastricht Guidelines on Violation of Economic, Social Cultural Rights.[18]

Education processes are performed in formal school and non-formal education activities. These processes work with campaign activities to urge a state to ratify the Covenant. According to the Asia-Pacific NGOs workshop, NGOs activists have conducting campaign through television and radio advertisements[19] Many NGOs produce their publication. NGOs can participate in the Committee’s press conferences when they give press briefing about their conclusion reviewing a country report. Indeed, in this event, NGOs have opportunity to give press briefing regarding political aspect and human rights violation. In campaign process, it is a common practice to disseminate the fact of ESCR condition by way of electronic media including internet. Today, it is easy to find the facts or issue concerning specific country via web pages.

C. Division of work between international and national NGOs

The way to improve effectiveness and managerial capacity of NGOs activities can be done through transferring knowledge and experiences among national and international NGOs.[20] Today, many international NGOs give contribution to improvement of national NGOs. For instance, projects were conducted by People’s Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE)[21] and International Service for Human Rights[22]

It is useful to so send representatives to the session when CESCR members examine submit the State’s delegation about its report. The local NGOs do not have consultative or observer status can work together with the international NGOs which can do so. In this process, the problem of representatives and state of sovereignty often became a challenge for NGOs activities. The government often submit criticize even the rejection of NGOs representative to UN deal with issue of accreditation of local NGOs. The effort has purposes to prevent local NGOs take participation in the UN machinery of human right protection. To solve this problem, involvement of other civil society elements are needed.

Another issue, the Government often make a problem out of NGOs credibility particularly dealt with legitimacy and constituencies which are represented by them. Indeed, NGOs speaks on behalf of victims. In this situation, a Government often facilitated or even formed another organization to counter-action the NGOs. In Indonesia, for instance, there is a term for the organizations which are made by the Government, called as “NGOs red license plate”. Again, corporations among NGOs are needed to counter this effort.

D. The end note: evaluation and effectiveness concerning NGO’s activities

To end this paper, it is submitted several point dealt with various roles of national and international non-governmental organizations in relation to the promotion and protection ESCR. Firstly, It seems difficult to develop collective awareness among NGOs activists. According to report of workshop Human Rights NGOs Asia and Pacific can be seen that it was difficult to achieve a common stand.[23] Indeed, based on personal experience, sometimes, it can be seen that a conflict between NGOs activist happened not based on ideological reasons but just caused by personal interest.

Secondly, an issue of consistency. It can be argued that it is hard to preserve consistency working to promote human rights and democracy. NGOs activist faces this problem especially who work in totalitarian regimes. The challenge is not only the threat consisting of gun pointed but also the flattery of ‘money’.

Thirdly, in general, many NGOs in developing countries are funded by foreign funding. What will happen if these support are stopped. Can they still continue their work? These are latent question in NGOs internally and asked by commentators frequently. Other statement is about independency. Ideally, NGOs are siding with victims.

Lastly, how measure the effectiveness and success from NGOs activities. How indicate the degree of success of NGOs activities organizing and educating people? How if people ask NGOs not only promote rights but also involve in social movement. In fact, the achievement of rights related with whether there is economic and political structure transformation.


Center for Human Rights. 1994. United Nations Action on the Field of Human Rights. New

York and Geneva.

Craven, Matthew. 2001. ‘The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Social‘In Economic,

Social and Cultural Rights. A Texbook. (Eds.) Asbjorn Eide, Catarina Krause and Allan

Rosas, pp. 455 – 472. 2nd Revised Edition. Dordrecht, Boston, and London: Martinus

Nijhoff Publishers.

Eide, Asbjorn. 2001. ‘Obstacle and Goals To Be Pusued’ In Economic, Social and Cultural

Rights. A Texbook. (Eds.) Asbjorn Eide, Catarina Krause and Allan Rosas, pp. 553 –

562. 2nd Revised Edition. Dordrecht, Boston, and London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Gramsci, Antonio. 1979. Antonio Gramsci. Letter From Prison. Lawner, Lynne (trans). London; Melbourne; New York: Quartet Books.

Johansson, Agnetta and Anna Karin Lindblom (eds.). 1995. Beyond Vienna. NGO – Human

Rights Congress 1995. Final Report.

Rosengarten, Frank (ed.) and Raymond Rosenthal (trans.). 1994. Antonio Gramsci. Letter from

Prison. Vol. 2. New York: Colombia University Press. 2nd Revised Edition. Dordrecht,

Boston, and London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Scott, Craig. 2001. ‘Multinational Enterprises and Emergent Jurispurence on Violations of

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ In Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A

Texbook. (Eds.) Asbjorn Eide, Catarina Krause and Allan Rosas, pp. 563 – 595.

Stephen, Mark. 1984 ‘The Complain Procedure of the United Nations Educational, Scientific

and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’ In Guide to International Human Rights Practice

(ed.) Hurst Hannum, pp. 94 – 107. London: MacMillan Press.

Swepston, Lee. 1984. ‘Human Rights Procedures of the International Labor Organization’ In

Guide to International Human Rights Practice (ed.) Hurst Hannum, pp. 74 – 93. London:

MacMillan Press.

UN Documents:


7 July 2000

NGO participation in the activities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


23 May 2000

List of issues to be take up in connection with the consideration of third periodic report of Australia concerning the rights covered by articles 1 – 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (E/1994/104/Add.22)

UN Doc. A/53/170

10 July 1998

Arrangements and Practices for the Interaction of Non-Governmental Organizations in All Activities of the United Nations System: Report of the Secretary General (“Sorensen Report”)


State obligations, indicators, benchmarks and the right to education. Background paper submitted by Paul Hunt (University of Waikato, New Zealand)

ECOSOC Decision 1996/302

NGOs on Roster for Commission on Sustainable Development


6 December 1996

Concluding observation of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Dominican Republic


12 May 1993

NGO participation in the activities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

GA Resolution 2200A (XXI)

16 December 1966

International Covenant of Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

Articles and Reports:

AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, Ethesaurus Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Hurights, Workshop for Human Rights NGOs in Asia and the Pacific.

ISHR Report, Partnership project (liaison programme) on the ECSR:

Kempf, Isabell, Civil Society and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.;

PDHRE, 1999-2000 Annual Report.

Poirier, Jeff. Regional Workshop on Promoting and Protecting Economic,Ssocial and Cultural


Stromquist, Nelly P. NGOs in a new paradigm of civil society. CICE, Volume 1, Number 1,


Victoria Working Group, NGOs and the United Nations Commiitee on Economic, Social and

Cultural Rights.


* Paper submitted to Asian Civil Society Forum 2002, CONGO, Bangkok, 9 – 13 December 2002.

** Head of Division on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Board of Executive, Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (Yayasan LBH Indonesia).

[1] See Isabell Kempf, Civil Society and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.; NGO Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affair (DESA), Association between the United Nations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

[4] See also UN Doc. A/53/170

[5] ECOSOC Decision 1996/302

[6] Lynne Lawner (trans). (1979). p. 42. About Gramsci theory of Gramsci, see Lawner. 129, 240-1, 243; Frank Rosengarten (ed.) and Raymond Rosenthal (trans). (1994). pp. 67, 69, 171-2.

[7] List of issue in regards of transnational corporation, can be seen in Asbjorn Eide, Catarina Krause and Allan Rossas (eds.), pp. 558 – 61; Craig Scott (2001) In Asbojrn Eide Catarina Krause and Allan Rossas (eds.), pp. 563 – 595.

[8] See UN Doc. E/C.12/2000/6; E/C.12/1993/WP.14.

[9] The State which have ratified the Covenant, have obligation to submit a periodic report every five year. See International Covenant of Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), GA Resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966; entry into force 3 of January 1976 in accordance with article 27; Center for Human Rights: (1994), pp. 25 – 6, 150 – 2.

[10] Isabell Kempf, Op.cit.

[11] UN Doc. E/C.12/1/Add.6. About this issue see also Matthew Craven (2001) in Asbjorn Eide, Catarina Krause and Allan Rossas (eds.), p. 464.

[12] See article in Australian and Economic Rights Project’s Web Page in

[13] See UN Doc. Paras. 24 – 5.E/C.12/Q/AUSTRAL/1.

[14] Isabell Kempf, Op.cit.

[15] See Lee Swepston in Hurst Hannum, pp. 74-93; Stephen Mark in Hurst Hannum, pp. 94 –107; Center for Human Rights. Op.cit., pp. 319 – 322.

[16] See: Nelly P. Stromquist, NGOs in a new paradigm of civil society in CICE, Volume 1, Number 1, 1998. Text in

[17] AAAS and Human Rights Program, E-thesaurus ESCR.

[18] UN Doc. E/C/12/1998/11 para. 1.

[19] See Hurights, Workshop for Human Rights NGOs in Asia and the Pacific.

[20] See Agneta Johansson and Anna Karin Lindblom (eds.) (1995) pp. 26-28

[22] See Partnership project (liaison programme) on the ECSR:

[23] Hurights. Op.cit.

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