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Part 12 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.


This is the first of two topics explaining how to carry out advocacy campaigns. The first topic introduces advocacy. It shows how to identify problems that need to be addressed through advocacy, and how to set goals for a campaign.

Topic 10: Guide to advocacy campaigns, Part 1
Section 1: What is advocacy?

Advocacy is defined as the process of changing, or trying to change or influence, laws, policies or practices.

Advocacy involves the following nine steps:

  1. Identifying the problem.
  2. Understanding one’s own organization.
  3. Understanding the environment.
  4. Devising goals.
  5. Identifying target audiences.
  6. Creating the messages.
  7. Creating the strategy.
  8. Carrying out the strategy.
  9. Measuring the outcome.

Section 2: Analysis of the problem

It is important for activists or NGOs to first understand the problem to be addressed through advocacy. Notes MRG, “At this stage, it is very important to involve the minority or indigenous community: Activists should listen to the human rights issues that community members raise and what their priorities are.”

Some considerations in understanding the nature of the problem

  • Extent of problem
  • Social attitudes
  • Level of awareness
  • Access to justice
  • Legal framework
  • Gender

Section 3: Analysis of the environment – internal and external

Having identified the problem that needs addressing through advocacy, activists and NGOs must next understand the environment in which they are going to be working. This process involves analyzing both the NGO for which the activist works, and the general situation.

Internal (i.e. organizational) analysis

This element contains two main points.

1. Mandate

What can the activist’s organization work on, and what is it not allowed to work on?

The answers to these questions will depend on:

  • The organization’s charter or constitution, if it has one
  • The organization’s board and its decisions
  • National legislation and government regulations

2. Resources, both financial and human

It will be important to establish the following:

  • What are the organization’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Is the organization too small to carry out a large-scale campaign?
  • What is the organization’s capacity for given areas of work?

When looking at the external environment, it is important to identify the following four groups of people: stakeholders, supporters, potential allies, and obstacles.

1. Stakeholders

Stakeholders are those persons who have an interest in the advocacy campaign. They can be directly involved and/or affected by it. They may also influence the campaign and its outcomes. A clear group of stakeholders when advocating on behalf of minority rights are the members of a minority community themselves.

2. Supporters

Supporters are people who are not stakeholders but are in favor of the work. They may include members of other communities or the majority who favor the outcome being sought. Supporters may also be drawn if the campaign seeks a change in the law that will benefit another community too.

3. Allies

Allies are supporters who can influence the outcome, such as university professors, journalists, politicians, and government officials.

4. Obstacles

Obstacles are those people who will work against the campaign.

Section 4: Setting ‘SMART’ goals

Having analyzed the environment, the next step in an advocacy campaign is to choose its goals. A useful tool for identifying appropriate goals is SMART, an acronym for the following words:

Specific – it is important to be as precise as possible when identifying a goal(s).

Measurable – there must be a way of identifying how the goal has been achieved or how advancement has been made towards it.

Agreed upon – consultation is conducted with stakeholders and everyone is agreed that these goals are important.

Realistic – depending on the organization’s resources and the situation in the country, the goals should be achievable.

Time-bound – a deadline for the strategy is required.

Outputs are the activities that you do, while outcomes are the achievements that you make. Sub-goals can also be incorporated as a way of measuring success.


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
  • Networking
  • 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.


Part 8 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.


This topic analyzes the reporting obligations of state parties to the core international human rights treaties, and the NGO’s role at all stages of the reporting process.

Section 1: Overview of state reporting obligations

In all the monitoring systems discussed to date, state parties are obliged to submit reports to the relevant body (Committees in the case of treaty bodies; the Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review; the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights for the Africa regional system; and the Advisory Committee for the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in the case of Europe).

The aim of the report is to explain how the appropriate provisions and rights are being implemented by the state party, and to set out the legal, administrative, and judicial measures taken by the state party to implement their international obligations. Reports also: compel state parties to comprehensively review the measures they have taken to implement human rights obligations; make state parties monitor their own progress in upholding their obligations; help identify problems and shortcomings; lead to the analysis of future needs and the setting up of relevant goals for a more effective implementation; and lead to the development of appropriate policies to achieve these goals.

The reporting pattern is generally the same for each mechanism:

State presentation and questioning (only relevant to UN treaty bodies and African and European regional mechanisms)


  • In examining state reports, the monitoring bodies undertake an important role in terms of advising states on how to improve compliance with the international standards to which they have subscribed.
  • The monitoring bodies are not tribunals, and the Concluding Observations are not legally binding and cannot be enforced. The Conventions, however, are binding, and states often accept advice from monitoring bodies.


  • The state report is the main document used by the committees. Governments often submit idealized descriptions of the human rights situation in their countries by avoiding disclosing problems and shortcomings.
  • To assess the accuracy of state reports, committee members can consider information from other sources.

NGOs play a strategically important role before, during, and after the monitoring process in the following ways:

  • Pressure: Reporting on time can prove to be a challenge for some state parties. NGOs play a key role in pressuring governments to submit overdue reports.
  • Consultation: NGOs can sometimes be consulted in the drafting of the state report.
  • Shadow reports: If a government is not interested in consulting NGOs, or it has not included the issues the NGOs raised, NGOs can submit written information directly to the committee in the form of a ‘shadow report’ (also referred to as ‘parallel report’ or ‘alternative report’).

Prior to the session

  • List of issues: Some UN treaty bodies prepare a ‘list of issues’ on the basis of the state party report and other information. This list is usually compiled at a session of the committee six to 12 months before the      state report will be examined. This list contains committee’s concerns and questions for the state party.
  • Information for members of monitoring bodies: The secretariat of the monitoring body compiles all documents related to the country under examination (including shadow reports from NGOs) for the members of the body to read.

During the session

  • Lobbying: NGOs can hold informal discussions with individual expert members of monitoring bodies.
  • Briefings: It is possible for NGOs to provide informal briefings to expert members of monitoring bodies. These meetings provide NGOs with the opportunity to explain issues, update members, and answer questions.

NGOs can submit information to the committees alone or as part of a coalition of NGOs.

Once a monitoring body has considered a state party report, it adopts the ‘Concluding Observations’. They are made public and can be found on the website of the relevant monitoring body.

  • Concluding Observations reflect the monitoring body’s position on the implementation of treaty provisions.
  • They refer to positive aspects on the implementation of provisions but also identify areas where further action is needed.
  • They therefore contain recommendations on the further implementation of the treaty by the state party.

Recommendations are not legally binding and cannot be enforced.


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