The protection of human rights is a global matter that has increased in prominence since the Second World War. As a subject matter human rights covers a broad and diverse variety of issues ranging from the treatment of prisoners to fair trade and access to water. There are many organisations which now exist to safeguard and protect human rights across the world. These groups are made up of both governmental institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) whose activities can range from a localised focus up to an international influence.
A good example of an intergovernmental organisation with a global reach is the United Nations. The United Nations Security Council and the United Nations Human Rights Council are both responsible for dealing with issues of global human rights and, along with several other committees inside the UN, have a responsibility to ensure that standards are maintained and improved.
The United Nations established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 which outlined the universal human and civil rights that every person should be entitled to and it is this document which lays out the general standard to which human rights investigations in the UN adhere. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is selected by the UN General Assembly and reports directly to it. The UNHRC was formed in 2005 to investigate issues of human rights violations and took the place of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which had suffered after many years of criticism (Ahrens, 2010).
The UNHRC is based in Geneva and will generally meet three times per year although extra meetings occur to respond to critical or urgent circumstances. Whilst the UNHRC cannot authorise the use of force (this can only be done by the Security Council) in extreme situations it can refer cases to the Security Council to impose sanctions or worse and also when appropriate it can refer to the International Criminal Court (Ball & Gready 2007).
The highest position of human rights protection in the UN is currently the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is this body’s responsibility to continually work for the protection of global human rights and also to aid empowerment of people in order to have their rights achieved. The Security Council has come under repeated criticism for its lack of action in various global atrocities and the fact that it allows non-democratic nations as members is often to blame.
Situations of particular note include the conflict in Darfur (2003) which was widely considered a humanitarian catastrophe and lasted for over six years (Feinstein, 2006), the genocide which occurred in Rwanda in 1994 which resulted in an estimated 800,000 people, and the massacre in Srebrenica in 1995 during the Bosnian war when over 8000 males were killed making it one of the largest genocidal atrocities to occur in Europe since the Second World War (Michas,2002).
Whilst the UN is concerned with Europe and the Americas as much as it is any nation there are many localised and centralised bodies set up throughout these regions to protect human rights. The Council of Europe upholds and promotes human rights, democracy and legal standards throughout the European countries of its 47 members and is responsible for both the European Convention on Human Rights and the body which enforces it, the European Court of Human Rights.
The Council of Europe has achieved a lot since it was founded in 1949 and is a respected force in European politics with a good record of its recommendations being valued (Ball ; Gready 2007). In America there are several bodies that work for the protection of human rights but possibly the largest governmental department is the US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour (DRL) whose purpose is to take action on human rights abuses and works with other human rights organisations to investigate human rights abuse cases and to develop better conditions regarding human rights.
The Bureau comprises several offices but notably houses the Office to Monitor ; Combat Anti-Semitism, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. DRL openly shares the factual information and reports of all of its human rights investigations and states that it ensures human rights considerations regarding US military operations although it seems that these are sometimes these recommendations are ignored due to their inconsistency with American foreign policy (DRL, n. . ).
Non-governmental organisations whose primary purpose is to safeguard human rights can be found globally, and are usually not region-specific (although these do exist). Whilst the following organisations do not operate exclusively in America or Europe it is important that their work be acknowledged here as their continual and consistent efforts towards the promotion and protection of human rights in these countries is prolific and significant.
One of the largest and most recognised human rights organisations is Amnesty International which was started in 1961. Amnesty claims over 3 million supporters across 150 countries and campaigns against human rights abuses globally. Amnesty is a charity and its policy is to stay neutral and independent of religion, politics or government and this allows it to campaign universally against the abuse of human rights. It also means that they cannot accept funding from government grants, or from non-ethical business donations.
Amnesty has had tremendous accomplishment in its operations throughout its history and still continues to achieve success in its campaigns (Amnesty, n. d. ). Human Rights Watch is another NGO which has dedicated itself to the protection of human rights on a global scale and while it has offices across Europe and America its headquarters can be found in New York. Human Rights Watch was originally set up in 1978 to ensure that the Soviet Union met the terms of the Helsinki Accords which were established to improve relations between the communist countries of the Soviet Union and the West.
Human Rights Watch follows the UDHR and publicly campaigns against countries that they deem to have violated it. Some of these campaigns have and do include the abolition of capital punishment, the safety of civilians during war and combat, gay rights, people trafficking and child labour (HRW, n. d. ). Whilst Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International share many similarities their approaches and methodologies are quite different.
Both organisations publish reports and research on contemporary human rights matters but this has led to Human Rights Watch coming under criticism for its funding approach, which relies largely on wealthy donors leading to a concentration ‘too much on places that the media already cares about’ (Anon, 2010). A very large NGO concerned with human rights and civil liberties in South and Central America exists in Peru and is called the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) or the Legal Defence Institute.
The IDL is a not for profit organisation which was founded in 1983 due to the regular and prolonged violence that Peru experienced at the time. The mission of the organisation continues to be the resistance of a return to those conditions through the promotion of human rights across a wide range of activities including legal defence, the dissemination of education and educational materials, community activities and collaborative efforts with other international promoters of human rights.
The latter has taken the form of public debates on democracy and human rights, public events and the sharing of information regarding human rights abuses. The IDL is recognised and respected internationally for its work and has also received two international awards in its time; the International Freedom Award in 1992 and the International Human Rights Award in 1993 (IDL, n. d. ). The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) was founded in 1974 is a group which operates for the human rights (and particularly, the self-determination) of the indigenous people of the Americas, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The group’s primary objectives are to achieve and preserve rights of the indigenous of those territories in order to aid the advancement of their people whilst maintaining and protecting their respective cultures. The IITC has achieved several notable accomplishments in the fairly short time it has existed and also became the first indigenous organisation to be granted Consultative Status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council for its recognised efforts in the defence of international human rights (IITC, n. . ).
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was established in 1959 and based its guiding principles on the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (ADRDM). The ADRDM was drafted in 1948 (pre-dating the UDHR) in order to promote and defend human rights internationally although the IACHR deals with human rights across North America, Central America and South America (the ADRDM has since morphed into the American Convention on Human Rights, or the ACHM).
In conjunction with the ACHM allows the IACHR to investigate petitions from states, NGOs or individual people across the Americas with complaints of human rights abuses. The petitions are private and can only be investigated if they meet the terms of the three criteria of acceptance; exhaustion (domestic avenues must have been tried first), timeliness (the petition must be filed within 6 months) and duplication of procedure (the petitions cannot have been put towards another court).
The work of the IACHR is widespread and the organisation not only accepts and investigates individual cases of human rights breaches but campaigns for the education of the international public in human rights awareness. This instruction and education comes in the form of regular conferences, events and meetings with governments and their agencies in order to promote their cause.
The recommendations made by the IACHR are respected and often adopted by its member states and are invariably laid out to facilitate the progression and development of human rights regulation and to improve the general conditions of the human rights situations across the continent (IACHR, n. d. ) There are literally thousands of governmental and non-governmental organisations across the world and whilst many are centralised in organisational terms most of them operate globally only with the continued and ongoing efforts and support of smaller, localised, grass-roots groups and campaigners.
A serious problem in the efforts of these smaller groups to get noticed is the commercial media’s continuing focus on a specific type of world event and a reluctance within the media organisations to report or acknowledge even the very worst of atrocities that occur outside this region, making the campaigners for these issues (or even countries) have to work a lot harder to get recognition on a global, or even national scale.