With the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council starting in Geneva today, the importance of protecting the valuable role of NGOs in international policy-making and ensuring the safety of human rights defenders is receiving a lot of attention. PRI’s programme officer, Olivia Rope, who made her first advocacy trip for PRI to Geneva last week, reflects on the contribution NGOs make to protecting and promoting human rights.
My first advocacy mission to the United Nations in Geneva for Penal Reform International (PRI) last week brought home a renewed understanding of the diverse and complex, but critical, role of NGOs, like PRI.
Geneva hosts the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Procedures including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Torture, to name a few. The number of issues worked on at any given time is vast making it a non-stop fast-paced environment. In a few days we covered topics such as the right of access justice for women at a CEDAW Committee meeting, the process of the revision of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the prevention of torture through monitoring bodies, the needs and rights of women offenders, overuse of imprisonment and more.
It is against this backdrop that the information, analysis and guidance provided by NGOs, or civil society, is a genuine and absolutely vital contribution to the shared mission of achieving the realisation of human rights for everybody.
NGOs support member states to turn hard-won policy change into practice, helping governments implement the standards which they committed to. PRI, for example, uses its criminal justice expertise and independent status to provide analysis and develop briefings and implementation tools for new UN standards. Recent standards PRI are focusing on include the 2010 ‘Bangkok Rules’ on women offenders and prisoners and the UN legal aid guidelines adopted last December.
We also ‘spread the word’. This is important as unsurprisingly given the number of resolutions and reports drafted and ultimately adopted at the UN level (249 resolutions were adopted at the December UN General Assembly last year), many of those involved cannot keep abreast of all developments in all areas.
NGO participation has long been valued as an essential ingredient in the pot of policy making at the international level. While the ultimate decision-making rests on member states, NGOs can bring expertise in a specific area and independence without the usual barriers that can come from politics and bureaucracy. Importantly NGOs bring experience from the ground ensuring that – in our case, prisoners and others involved in the criminal justice system – remain central and in fact benefit from the work of the UN and its member states. The show must go on… together in cooperation!