13.12.2002 | Evhen Zakharov, the Kharkov Group for human rights protection

One remark on the difference between human rights protecting public organizations and other NGOs


Several days ago I have had the unexpected discussion with the head of a well-known non-governmental organization. My opponent asserted that advocacy is the protection of public interests and that this term is wider than human rights protection, which is a part of advocacy. I protested saying that these concepts are almost identical, since human rights protection is also a kind of the protection of public interests, and in most cases the protection of the rights of some group may be turned into the protection of the rights of each member of this group. Yet, I did not point out that I meant the protection of rights, but not interests, because it seemed obvious. Indeed, this is the very root of the difference. The matter is which conception of rights is considered. If to consider human rights as negative rights only, that is as the prohibition to the state to restrict freedoms of people, then the protection of human rights and the protection of public interests coincide only in the case, where public interests are regarded as obeying human rights exceptionally. (By the way, the mentioned restrictions, if they exist, are established, according to the legitimate goal, as exceptions and only on the basis of laws taking into account the principle of proportionality of the interference of the state.) Yet, if to widen the sphere of public interests (and usually it is treated wider that human rights protection), then one must admit that human rights protection and advocacy are different directions of the activity, and the corresponding public organizations belong to different types of NGOs. This difference implicates many other differences: in the methods of work, in the sources of financing, etc.

The difference between rights and interests is that rights belong to all people without exception, and different groups have different interests. The conflict of the interests exists always, and the involved NGOs protect the interests of their parties in these conflicts insisting that they are protecting public interests. The conflict of rights also exists, but this is a conflict between human rights and the rights of the state and, taking into account the conception of negative rights, it is clear that human rights protecting NGOs protect people most frequently (although it happens that the offender is a person, not the state, for instance in the cases of some radical actions).

Thus, it seems that it would be reasonable to consider advocacy and human rights protection as different direction of public activity. At that, human rights protection is always the political activity (if to interpret politics wide), and advocacy may be both the political activity and the activity not connected with the politics.

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