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From Idealism to Ineffectiveness: Assessing the Performance of Human Rights NGOs

Unmasking the Double Standard: Are International Human Rights Organizations Powerful Guardians or Toothless Observers?"

4 mins read
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina films Padma Bridge from a helicopter on her way to Dhaka from Tungipara in Gopalganj on Friday, January 24, 2020 ( Photo: Dhaka Tribune )

Most of the human rights organizations may appear to be upstanding global citizens on paper, their practical impact can be questioned, labeling them as toothless tigers. Let’s examine their behavior:

During the upcoming national elections in Bangladesh, the people want a festive atmosphere that allows voters to freely choose their preferred candidate. However, it is highly offensive to see foreign diplomats stationed in Dhaka interfering in Bangladesh’s election process while their own countries have significant faults in various affairs, including their own election processes. When these diplomats attempt to prescribe solutions for our national matters, they come across as unjust rogues.

Although the next parliamentary elections are still more than a year away, foreign diplomats are already involving themselves in Bangladesh’s election process, which is unacceptable. The government does not appreciate their interference, criticism, or opinions on the election process and internal affairs of the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already instructed foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh to refrain from such actions. Additionally, media representatives should avoid asking foreign diplomats about our election process.

Regrettably, these international human rights organizations and their local counterparts have chosen to remain silent regarding the blatant and aggressive meddling of powerful nations like the United States in the domestic affairs of Bangladesh, an independent and sovereign country. This silence is deeply regrettable.

Moreover, the international non-governmental human rights organizations have failed to condemn the disgraceful decision of the White House administration to stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO) on flimsy grounds, violating international norms. Even the WHO itself has not addressed this issue yet.

In most cases, these organizations deliberately choose to remain silent on blatant violations of international rules by the American government and its allied authorities in weaker nations. It appears that they prioritize the interests of powerful states, displaying a double standard in their actions towards less powerful countries. They must strive to be more independent, resourceful, and courageous in fulfilling their responsibilities without succumbing to the influence of major powers or relying solely on their financial resources. Their work should not be compromised, and they should speak up against egregious and systemic human rights violations, especially those committed by the United States and its allies.

Millions of people have suffered crimes against humanity perpetrated by these rogue states, particularly the United States. It seems as though there is an unwritten agreement between these international non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs) and powerful states such as the United States, where they refrain from speaking critically about them and their accomplice states.

Numerous human rights abuses occur in countries around the world, imposed in the form of abrasive sanctions to stifle nations and their people from asserting their rights. These NGOs remain silent when drone fighter planes strike weaker nations, resulting in the destruction of human lives and vital infrastructure for the sake of self-interest. In such situations, these NGOs hide their faces and fail to take bold steps to stop the oppressors. This raises the question of their effectiveness.

Furthermore, some global organizations have faced criticism for their inability to address the problems they were designed to tackle. The United Nations, for instance, has failed to compel Israel to adhere to its numerous resolutions, some of which were submitted by the UN Security Council. Similarly, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has also been deemed ineffective. The critical situation in Myanmar is an opportunity for the OIC to demonstrate its capabilities. As a body consisting of 57 nations, it is essential for its bureaucrats to take serious action rather than issuing insignificant press releases.

While human rights and democracy are not synonymous, the global human rights regime should be based on the understanding that democratic governance provides the best foundation for durable human rights protection. Multilateral institutions should align their policies with the promotion of democracy as the fundamental principle. Institutions like the United Nations Development Programme should prioritize good governance and democracy in their initiatives. Human rights not only benefit from good governance but also thrive in democratic environments, both horizontally among states and vertically through the establishment of institutionalized frameworks within countries and societies.

Global economic institutions also have the potential to promote and protect human rights if there is sufficient political will. These institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and regional development banks, should extend their work on anti-corruption and good governance to ensure equal access to legal rights for all groups. By strengthening judicial institutions and fostering civil society participation, these efforts can enhance productivity and prosperity in developing nations. Similarly, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its member states should encourage the elimination of barriers to freedom of information to facilitate market growth.

There is no doubt that the number of human rights non-governmental organizations has increased significantly in the sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated by the United Nations. These NGOs proudly claim to play a critical role in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide. However, in reality, their impact is questionable.

The international human rights law arena still lacks a consensus on the definition and categorization of human rights NGOs. Nevertheless, all stakeholders agree that these organizations should protect internationally recognized human rights at various levels. Unfortunately, their failures are evident.

Successful and effective human rights NGOs should possess certain attributes and should self-regulate, possibly by adhering to NGO Codes of Conduct, to overcome internal and external challenges. It requires the concerted efforts of all relevant stakeholders to ensure that human rights NGOs fulfill their mandate of protecting human rights in all countries, without being influenced by powerful states that may engage in harmful actions.

The achievements and effectiveness of successful human rights NGOs should serve as models for all advocates and defenders of human rights, who often face significant sacrifices in their endeavors to improve the human experience.

In retrospect, the human rights treaties established after World War II were not just acts of idealism but also carried elements of hubris. They can be likened to the civilizing efforts of Western governments and missionary groups in the 19th century, which did little good for native populations while entangling European powers in the affairs of countries they did not understand. It is high time for a more proactive and pragmatic approach.

Addressing the potential for nuclear warfare is an issue that remains relevant in today’s globalized world. Initiatives such as The Nuclear World Project, led by Robert Frye, aim to create awareness of the dangers posed by nuclear proliferation and facilitate dialogue on resolution options. International NGOs should play an active role in these efforts, but their response has been insufficient.

Human rights provide an aspirational roadmap for decision-making and balancing trade-offs. This framework is crucial when dealing with disruptive and potentially dangerous forces that present complex challenges. However, it seems that organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch fail to effectively address issues involving superpowers like the United States and its influential allied states.

The contemporary international human rights framework should be enduring and evolving. It can continue to emphasize our shared humanity, provide a moral compass, and instill determination and purpose in the face of daunting odds faced by weaker nations against mighty powers.

Unfortunately, international human rights organizations or NGOs often remain toothless tigers. They require significant improvements and reforms to fulfill their obligations effectively.

Anwar A. Khan

Anwar A. Khan is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

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