Part 9 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.
Topic 7: Participation in international meetings
NGOs can participate in some UN bodies without any special registration, including the most relevant body for minorities – the UN Forum on Minority Issues. NGOs attending meetings of the Human Rights Council, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), must have consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, called ECOSOC status. According to MRG, “Minority NGOs have reported that obtaining ECOSOC status, although difficult, has resulted in them being taken more seriously by their Government and by international actors, and sometimes has had a positive impact on their ability to access donor funds.”
Any NGO can submit information to the treaty bodies and attend treaty body meetings to lobby committee members. They are only required to inform the secretariat in advance to arrange accreditation. Any NGO can submit information to special procedures and meet with mandate holders without ECOSOC status. Any NGO can submit information to the UPR. Attending the review in person requires a special registration; however, the debates can also be watched on the UN webcast.
Access to regional bodies
- The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) grants observer status to NGOs, for which there is an application process.
NGOs without observer status may attend meetings of the ACHPR but they are not allowed to speak. NGOs with observer status sometimes allow other NGOs to make statements under their name.
- The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is Europe’s largest human rights conference. NGOs from OSCE member states can participate in the meetings. There is an online registration process where NGOs need to provide some details about their work.
- The Association of Southeast Asian Nationas (ASEAN) has arrangements for granting affiliation to NGOs; however few, if any, NGOs working on human rights have this affiliation.
- There is no arrangement for NGO participation in the Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). However, some organizations have received official recognition by the Association.
Many states are especially sensitive about minority issues. As such, minority NGOs need to understand the political realities of international bodies so that they can develop strategies to advance their issues despite the difficulties that can be encountered. At most international meetings, formalities such as formal language, protocol for speaking, and time-keeping take place.
It is important for NGOs to devise strategy that links their work at home with the setting of an international meeting. The opportunities available at these meetings generally fall under four categories:
- Dialogue with the government
- Media relations
- Structural or institutional issues
Writes MRG, “Minority rights is frequently a marginalized issue at the international level. Many states are either indifferent or hostile to efforts to improve minority protection.
It is therefore important that minority NGOs attending international meetings are visible, to remind states of the importance of the issue. This can be done by:
- Making statements highlighting minority concerns under different agenda items and not only under the item specifically dealing with minorities
- Speaking to a range of different government representatives about the importance of addressing minority rights (It may be easier to speak to representatives from neighbouring countries or the region)
- Updating MRG and other NGOs working on minority issues about the discussions that have been had to help improve overall strategy on minority rights internationally.”
In summation, planning a strategy before attending an international meeting is very important. NGOs cannot expect attendance alone to have an impact. NGOs need to take advantage of all available opportunities. These opportunities include meeting your government representative to discuss issues, meeting representatives from other governments, publicizing your issues through the international media, networking with other NGOs, and meeting with other potentially useful contacts such as UN staff. Minority issues are frequently ignored or marginalized at the international level. This means it is important for minority NGOs to participate fully and remind states of the importance of addressing minority concerns. Taking time to get involved with institutional issues such as establishment or renewal of human rights mandates may lead to new or improved opportunities in the future.