Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working for the cause of human rights, are often among the first to reach the scene of massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law. Traditionally, these NGOs documented violations, drew attention to them, and by doing so, helped to bring a halt to ongoing violations. Human rights NGOs potentially have a vital role to play, they often have direct knowledge of violations and contacts with victim and witness communities. NGOs also may be able to document violations shortly after they occur and to compile information regarding patterns of violations.

They often have direct knowledge of violations and contacts with victim and witness communities. NGOs also may be able to document violations shortly after they occur and to compile information regarding patterns of violations.

These organisations pickups the government’s deficits in service and help in protecting rights of the people. NGOs are non profit making organisations ranging from small groups to international organisations having branches all over the world. NGOs are independent organisation of state and managed by group of private individuals and they draw strength from the people who offer voluntary support to their causes.
NGOs raise awareness among people about their rights by imparting education  and uplifting them.

Role Of NGOs

NGOs have key role to play in planning, monitoring and evaluation of the process of the protection of human rights. B.R.P Bhasker points out that “in the field of human rights, the role of NGO is particularly important as Government or their agencies often become violators of the very rights they are committed to protect and promote vast sections of the people who are illiterate and ill-informed, and that makes it easy for rights violators to act with impunity. Against this background human rights education assumes importance and this task is primarily performed by NGOs”.

Even the Government has also recognized the crucial role played by the NGOs in various fields. They are playing a remarkable role in various fields such as education, health, environment protection and protection of the rights of various classes of the people. Some of the NGOs working in this field are- Saheli’s  for women’s rights, Youth of Voluntary Action for eradication of child labor, Bandhua Mukti Morcha for eradicating bonded labour,  People’s Uniions for Civil liberties and citizens for democratic rights have also playing a crucial role as they have taken up  various instances of human rights violation before the Supreme Court of India.

There are several instances where NGOs were the first to report the violation of human rights to concerned authorities. The National Human Rights Commission has taken action on several complaints, mainly reports by local NGOs form different parts of the country.

NGOs are also having effective role in enforcing the policies of the Government. The exceptional role of NGOs in furthering human rights is given recognition in the Protection Of Human Rights Act, 1993 not only this act alone but also Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action 1993 also recognized the role of NGOs in the promotion of Human Rights. This declaration insisted upon the cooperation of nations with the NGOs in creating favorable conditions for enjoyment of human rights.

The Protection of Human Rights Act under section 12(i) expressly provided for the Commission to “encourage the efforts of non-governmental organisations and institutions working in the field of human rights.” This is a responsibility which Commission readily assumes , for the cause has much to gain both from practical help and from constructive criticism that NGOs and the Commission can bring to bear their mutual interaction and growing relationship. To this end the Commission has from time to time, invited leading human rights activists and NGOs representatives for discussions and sought their help in practical ways. In addition, in every visit to a state, the Commission has made it a point to benefit from experience and knowledge of NGOs, whose contacts at the” grass-roots” level give strength and meaning to human rights movements where it matters most.


The Role of Non Government Organizations (NGOs) in the Prevention of Torture

The need to ensure observance of human rights is so important that continuous and relentless efforts are needed from everyone to ensure satisfactory levels of that vital societal need. Notwithstanding the effective and sustained efforts of the law courts in the land or the National and State Human Rights Commissions together with the administrative yardsticks issued to various agencies to make certain that human rights concerns are well woven in their respective functioning. It is necessary for the good of the society to have voluntary agencies those also aid and promote the cause of human rights .

The Association for the Prevention of Torture believes that the effective prevention of torture requires three integrated elements:

  1. Transparency in Institutions: All places where persons are deprived of their liberty should be accountable and subject to regular scrutiny through independent visiting and other monitoring mechanisms.
  2. Effective Legal Frameworks: International, regional and national legal norms for the prevention of torture and other ill-treatment should be universally respected and implemented.
  3. Capacity strengthening: National and international actors who work with persons deprived of their liberty should be trained to increase their knowledge of and commitment to prevention practices.

Irrespective of the differences in basic orientations, the NGOs do have potential in playing decisive and crucial role in the protection of Human Rights. The strengths of NGOs were discussed at a national workshop of NGOs in Delhi, which include:

  • The closeness to the people and the rapport established with them at gross root level
  • The credibility they have earned as champions of the cause of the people.
  • Awareness and promotion of holistic approach in human development.
  • An effective alternative power to organize people and to support people movements.
  • An identity and voice of their own.
  • Capacity for advocacy and lobbying.
  • Democratic style of functioning.
  • Greater flexibility and openness for change.
  • Capacity to adopt according to contexts and needs of people.
  • Capable of committed leadership.
  • Availability of committed professional.

The impact of NGOs in the society at large is so strong that nobody can ever simply ignore its presence and potential. The Government of India has recognized this fact and are incorporating statutory provisions in laws and regulations for the involvement and participation of NGOs in the implementation of various programs and policies.

The National Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 has also provided for the identification of one NGO in each district for giving accreditation and to work with them for legal literacy and legal guidance. The impartiality of authentic NGOs has been upheld, when the Supreme Court laid down guidelines to be followed by the police when they arrest a person. In D.K. Basu v State of West Bengal, Court states, “the time, place of arrest and venue of custody of an arrestee be notified by the police where the next friend or relative of the arrestee lives outside the district or town, through the Legal Aid Organisation in the District and the police station of the area concerned telegraphically, within a period of 8 to 12 hours after the arrest.”

The NGOs emerged in a particular historical context to respond to a specific problem or situation that faced a group of people or society at large. In times of perceived necessity, NGOs have also joined hands at national and international levels to assume greater bargaining power. At the international level, 1990’s have witnessed three important events where the NGOs have made their presence felt in defending the dignity and rights of human beings. These events are the Vienna Conference on Human Rights, the International Women’s Meet in Beijing and the WTO Seattle Conference. At the International level, NGOs like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Asia Watch etc. have taken positions in upholding rights and effectively influenced human rights policies of different States.


The most important roles that NGOs play are the following:-

Human Rights Awareness Building

There is a widespread ignorance and illiteracy regarding human rights. The various UN declarations, Covenants and municipal enactments on human rights have not reached the level of ordinary people. In a country like India, where a sizable population is still illiterate and live below poverty line; unless concerted effort is made, prevention of human rights violations will not become effective. The Government machinery is doing precious little to reach human rights awareness to the people who need it most. NGOs can play a vital role in this area.

Organisation of People around Specific Issues of Human Rights Violations

Awareness building alone is not sufficient to counter rights violations. It is only preparing the ground. When specific incident takes place, be it by the police or otherwise, efforts must be made to publicize the issue and organize the people locally or at regional level around the issue and initiate action with the active participation and involvement of the people. Such actions will reinforce the human rights awareness of the people and will serve as deterrent to further human rights violations.

Investigation and Fact Finding

NGOs conduct investigations and fact finding studies of specific occurrences of right violations with the involvement of experts and representatives of people. The report of such findings should be widely circulated among the people and publicized through media to the extent possible. These reports should be sent to departmental authorities, Government officials, and investigating agencies. It must be remembered that the impact of these reports will depend on its unbiased and impartial character.

Recourse to Judicial Remedies

In certain types of rights violations it is important that remedy is sought also with the help of judiciary, in the form of public interest litigation. They may be in the form of writ petitions, contempt of court proceedings or damage suits. Irrespective of its success or failure in the courts, it is bound to spread general awareness among the people leading to greater empowerment.

Advocacy and Lobbying

One of the many effective roles the NGOs can play, is advocacy and lobbying. This can lead to changes in existing laws, besides generating public debate for new legislation’s and policy formulations.


NGOs are better positioned to establish linkages with other groups at regional, national and international levels. Action against human rights violations must be taken up by these larger networks for effective campaigning and remedial action.

It is submitted that law gives power to the police to exercise force for the purpose of peace keeping. Exercise of police power must be subject to checks and balances. As Convention against Torture explicitly states, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as justification of torture”. The Supreme Court and the NHRC have also upheld this view in their various judgments, recommendations and have jointly and individually established that the prohibition of torture is absolute, no matter how heinous the crime for which someone is arrested.


The positive role NGOs can play in relation to ICC investigations

 NGOs are capable of providing valuable assistance to the ICC Prosecutor. They often have on-the-ground knowledge and direct contact with victims, and may have established relations of trust with victim communities and other civil society groups, including religious groups, unions and other institutions. Human rights NGOs may also be in a good position to provide a broad picture of the context in which violations take place and present a pattern of the events.

NGOs may have been able to document violations soon after their occurrence, perhaps before people scatter or evidence is lost. Indeed, NGOs are one of the main sources that draw the attention of the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to situations where crimes under the Rome Statute may have been committed in the first place.3 Already, NGOs around the world are asking how they file information with the ICC, and the ICC has received hundreds of communications from these and other civil society actors.

NGO assistance may be all the more important in the absence of State cooperation. Although States Parties to the Rome Statute are under an obligation to cooperate with the Prosecutor, and all States have a general duty under international law to cooperate in combating impunity for crimes of international concern such as those under the ICC’s jurisdiction, the reality is that there are a host of factors that may prevent such cooperation, including the fact that the State itself may not control the territory in question.

The following are just some of the ways in which human rights NGOs could potentially work in relation to ICC investigations:

  • Map or document patterns of violations
  • Conduct forensic examinations
  • Publish reports and other information on violations
  • Submit information on violations to national courts or the ICC
  • Provide general legal memorandum and research assistance to national courts or the ICC
  • Monitor and report on national proceedings in public or submissions to the ICC
  • Explain the ICC, in particular the role of the OTP, to affected communities
  • Advise the OTP on communication with victims and witnesses in affected communities
  • Provide the ICC with information regarding displacement of people and flows of refugees
  • Identify potential witnesses and act as a channel to reach and gain trust of such individuals for the OTP
  • Advise the ICC on witness protection.
  • Provide support to victims or witnesses – such as psychological, medical and humanitarian support – after they have been interviewed by the OTP
  • Organize victims for the purpose of participation and reparations
  • Provide training to lawyers who might represent victims or suspects or accused
  • Act as amicus curiae in court proceedings.


The Function of NGO’s in the Human Rights Arena

NGO’s in the human rights arena perform a wide variety of functions. These will vary with the differing political, social, economic and cultural situation in which NGO’s find themselves. The strategies and tactics the NGO’s will employ, will be different from the issues of NGO’s in situation of intense political repression, or of NGO’s in the third world countries facing such multiple crisis as famine, ecological degradation, foreign debt, ethnic violence, lawlessness and corruption.

Information Gathering, Evaluation and Dissemination:

One of the most important functions performed by NGO’s engaged in human rights work is that of monitoring the behavior of the State and of other power elites, and of gathering, evaluating and dissemination of information. In the process of exposing human rights violation, the importance of information emerges in part from the paradox that is central to the human rights struggle.

In the recent years, the information or fact-finding function of NGO’s has been under serious scrutiny, especially from the Governments charge with committing violations and from their supporters. As a consequence, many in the human rights community have been sensitized to the need for their data, to pass tests of validity and reliability. NGO’s have monitored the behavior of armed opposition or terrorists.

Finally, with respect to information, it is important to recognize that NGOs are often in a better position than Government agencies both to collect and to assess information with respect to the observance of economic, social and cultural are critical preconditions for effective action in the area of human rights to have a policy impact that information needs to be discriminated.

Advocacy to stop Abuses and Secure Redress:

Advocacy means actively taking up the case of those, whose rights are violated. For a human rights organization, advocacy may speaking out for the voiceless and it entails expanding and making more visible what may be only a blatant conflict.

Legal Aid, Scientific Expertise and Humanitarian Assistance:

Organizations concerned with human rights have also been engaged in a broad range of activities which can be grouped under the heading of humanitarian assistance. This may involve sending food, clothes or reading material to political prisoners, extending material to aid to the families of such prisoners providing emergency relief to refugees and internally displaced persons, providing shelter for the homeless for street children.

Keeping open the Political System:

On the whole, human rights NGOs are not mass based organization. Human Rights NGOs are very much involved in political struggle in as much as the struggle for human rights, struggle about power and its control. The human rights organization is different because its purpose is largely to keep the political process open and to keep the Government accountable so that the power is not inordinately centralized or abused.

Building Solidarity:

NGOs and People’s organization on the front line in human rights struggle are often both highly vulnerable and highly isolated. Building solidarity across the different sectors of society between workers and peasants, women organization, organizations of indigenous peoples and across ethnic and religious groups is a task taken on, by much organization working in the human rights arena. In heterogeneous societies, many NGO’s recognize that change will come only by a radical restricting of the social order. Hence, efforts are directed towards information sharing and networking as a first step by such creating solidarity.

Education, Consensus Building or Empowerment:

NGOs have come to realize that people cannot defend their rights unless they know their rights. It is increasingly felt that human rights can play a significant role in the empowerment of the impoverished. The educational efforts that engage NGOs in the human rights area, tend to be at the non-formal level, rather than the formal school setting and involve consultations, workshops and seminars and training courses for women, trade unionist, peasants, and the indigenous or church people. New methodologies have been developed, especially for reaching the illiterate, including street theaters, comic books, film poster competitions, folk music.

In case of repression cases, it is possible to consider long-range objectives, education, consensus building and empowerment move to a priority position in the human rights agenda as the best hope for the future.

Legislation to Incorporate or Develop Human Rights Standards:

At the International and regional level, the burden of legislative drafting has fallen to international human rights NGOs which have been playing an increasingly important in this area. The NGOs are often engaged in drafting legislative proposals, preparing position papers on pending legislation and testifying before Parliamentary or other Government Committees. Today, the working groups of NGOs closely follow the drafting of new international human rights, legislation- treaties, declaration, and guidelines and make major inputs into the process. They play an equally important role in identifying new issues, defining them and other such areas which require legislation.



No field of activity of the Commission now remains insulated from NGOs, whose advice has also been sought on ways to make the Commission more effective.  The Commission receives number of public interest complaints from NGOs and they have often been associated with aspects of investigations undertaken by the Commission.  Further, in respect of projects and programs, the list grows of NGOs working closely with the Commission, particularly in respect of serious societal issues relating, inter alia, to matters such as child labor, bonded labor, child prostitution, literacy and human rights education, health care, malnutrition, the rights of women, and of vulnerable and marginalized groups, the problems of Dalits and Tribals.

The major problem with the Indian NGOs is that there is a lack of co-ordination of their activities in terms of their fields, territorial areas and target groups.  Hence, to co-ordinate and channelize the efforts of NGOs working in the field of human rights and to make known their contribution to the outside world, the National Human Rights Commission has compiled a National Register of NGOs working in human rights area.

To encourage the efforts of NGOs, working in the field of human rights is a statutory responsibility of the Commission.  The promotion of protection of human rights cannot possibly gather the momentum it requires without the fullest co-operation between the Commission and NGOs.  NGOs are closely involved with the Commission through the complaints they submit to it and through seminars and work shops in human rights related matters.



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