09.12.2000 | Evhen Zakharov, Kharkiv

Tasks, functions, rights and principles of human rights protection organization activities


A human rights protection organization is a special kind of non-profit NGO, whose activities are intended for the establishment and protection of rights and freedoms of people, for the efficient control of their observation by the state, its bodies and officers. Human rights protection organizations attempt to decrease the organized violence on the side of the state. To reach this aim human rights protection organization work at the same time in three directions:

protection of human rights in concrete cases (without remuneration), public investigations of facts of the violation of human rights by state bodies and officers;

spreading information about human rights, legal enlightenment;

analysis of the state with human rights.

All the three directions are closely interlaced, the work only in one direction, generally speaking, cannot be efficient. If one works only with the protection of individuals, then a human rights protection organization is doomed to the non-stop fight with the state under the condition of paternalism, which remains intact, when people do not know their rights and legal instruments of their protection, all these facts threatening human rights. The legal enlightenment and teaching human rights, the knowledge of one’s rights, national and international tools of their protection are needed for the successful defense of rights and for the creation of the rightful atmosphere. The analysis of the state with human rights needs analysis of the legal system, of the court and administrative practices, of the measure of their correspondence to the norms of the international right, of the observation of legislation processes, of the initiation of necessary changes in legislation and human rights protection practices. In order to carry out such analysis one must know international agreements in the sphere of human rights, the internal legislation and court practices of other countries, where ‘milder’ rights are applied, in particular of the European Court on human rights. It would be great if a network of organizations existed which would deal with one important right, for example, the right to live, or the right to be protected from torture and degrading treatment, or the right to the freedom of expression (freedom of speech and information) and so on. Yet, there are very few organizations (we mean public organizations which deal with the three mentioned above questions), so they have to deal with greatly different abuses of human rights working in the regime of a firemen’s brigade. It would be more efficient if human rights protection organizations concentrated on one or two key rights and would treat them profoundly and systematically.

Let us try to consider more exactly and in more details the subject of activities of human rights protection organizations: their tasks, functions, rights, principles of their activity, having in mind the development in the future of the special law ‘On public human rights protection organizations’.

The subject of control on the side of human rights protection organizations is the current state policy in the sphere of human rights, decisions, activity (passivity) of state bodies and officers that violate rights and freedoms of people or create obstacles for realizing by people their rights and freedoms. Another kind of human rights abuses is when people are illegally involved into executing some duties or when people are illegally made answerable for some obligations. These violations, obstacles and coercion can be systematic, that is to relate not to single individuals, but to groups; that is why human rights protection organizations regard complaints both from physical and juridical persons, including groups of people who carry out investigation of similar cases by their own initiative.

Human rights protection organizations have to solve such problems:

To protect human rights and freedoms that are fixed in the Constitution and national legislation (including international agreements which the Parliament agreed to satisfy).

To be a source of information on human rights for the people and power bodies, to raise the education level in the branch of human rights, to encourage respect to law and the development of structures that promote the respect to and understanding of human rights.

To analyze the state of human rights in their country and its separate regions.

In order to solve these tasks human rights protection organizations have to execute such functions:

1. 1. To consider complaints of physical and juridical persons or their associations about abuses of human rights and freedoms fixed in the Constitution, international and national legislation.

1. 2. To inform the claimants about their rights and available opportunities of their legal protection, and to assist the claimants in their access to these opportunities.

1. 3. To act as mediators in the process of regaining the rights and freedoms.

1. 4. To carry out public investigations of violations of human rights (according to the complaints of physical and juridical persons, or by the organization’s initiative).

1. 5. To readdress the complaints on behalf of the claimant or on behalf of the human rights protection organization to competent bodies for solving the question.

1. 6. To turn on behalf of the claimant or on behalf of the human rights protection organization to courts or to international organizations.

1. 7. To take part in the court process in order to defend the restoration of the abused rights and freedoms.

1. 8. To draw conclusions from the carried out public investigation.

1. 9. To pronounce the judgement according to the results of the carried out public investigation, to draw a public accusation and public warning to the state bodies or officers whose activity or inactivity resulted in the violation of human rights and freedoms.

1. 10. To publish the results in mass media.

In order to solve problems of the kind 2 human rights protection organizations have to:

2. 1. Collect, prepare and distribute information materials which include:

internal laws (including implemented international ones) which concern human rights, comments to them, corresponding administrative and court decisions and their interpretation by superior court organs;

internal mechanisms of human rights protection;

international juridical documents on human rights and comments to them;

international mechanisms of human rights protection;

information on the activities of the human rights protection organizations and its publication.

2. 2. Create educational printed matter, audio-, photo- and video- materials on human rights for the massive consumers and for specialists.

2. 3. Develop educational curricula and methods for teaching human rights to various social and professional groups.

2. 4. Hold specialized seminars on human rights for representatives of so-called high risk professions (workers of bodies of internal affairs and security services, servants of penitentiaries, advocates, judges, prosecutors, military servicemen, physicians, journalists, trade union leaders and workers of social services), representatives of legislative and executive power whose work concern human rights.

2. 5. Organize various public campaigns and actions supporting human rights in the public mind: competitions for the best essays on human rights and for the best pictures or photographs on the same topic for schoolchildren, sport competitions for students and other similar happenings dedicated to the Day of human rights, to the Day of political convicts and so on.

2. 6. Collect and distribute materials on the history of the idea of human rights and the history of human rights protection movement.

Likewise, to fulfil item 3 human rights protection organizations have to:

3. 1. Prepare conclusions about laws, law drafts and other legal acts and programs directed at the protection of human rights and send them to the Parliament.

3. 2. Monitor the legislation, court and administrative practices in the sphere of human rights.

3. 3. Favor the ratification of international agreements in the sphere of human rights and control the concordance of the national legislation and international obligations in the sphere of human rights.

3. 4. Prepare independent reports about the state of observation and protection of human rights and freedoms, supply comments to official reports directed to international organizations about observation of human rights.

3. 5. Prepare and distribute in the Parliament, government and other bodies of state power and administration analytical materials, recommendations and propositions concerning various questions concerning human rights, in particular, in the sphere of:

national policy;

administrative procedures and practices;

procedural actions of law-enforcing bodies, such as court, militia, prosecutor’s office, security services, tax militia, etc.;

international aspects of human rights.

In order to execute these functions human rights protection organizations must have such rights:

the right for a free access to all documents, including documents that are stored by state organs and archives that are necessary for a concrete investigation, as well as the right to copy these documents, if the information stored in these documents does not contain state secrets or other secrets defined by law;

the right to receive written or oral explanations from all persons including state officers, if this information concerns the violation of human rights;

the right to investigate the case on the spot including places of arrest or detainment, as well as penitentiaries or places of military service or psychiatric hospitals and other places of confined freedom;

the right to carry out other actions necessary for checking the facts of the violation, if these actions do not contradict law;

the right to give recommendations to state organs depending on the results of the investigation, as well as assess the actions of state and non-state organs;

the right for the free access to the legislation activity, the right to receive law drafts from the parliamentary commissions, the right to take part in discussing the drafts at the meetings of the committees, the right to turn to subjects of legislation initiatives;

the right to take part in the development of state programs that concern teaching and investigating in the sphere of human rights, in teaching these subjects at schools, higher schools and other institutions where state officers are trained and educated;

the right to be present at court sessions and meetings of other state bodies where the questions of protection of rights and freedoms are discussed, as well as the right to have access to and the right to copy the minutes of such meetings;

the right to receive official reports that the state directs to international organizations, such as the UNO, OSCE, or to the national organizations such as the Supreme Rada and others;

the right to pass the collected information about the violation of human rights or own analytical materials to state bodies, mass media and international organizations, if this information does not contain state secrets or other secrets defined by law.

As to the principles of activities of human rights protection organizations, they are as follows:

Rights of man are protected independently of his race, sex, citizenship, ethnic or social origin, property, rank, occupation, residence, language, religion, political and other views.

Human rights protection organizations have the right to motivated rejection of a complaint. This principle means that an organization has a certain freedom of choice. The organization, in contrast to a state organization of similar profile, accepts a complaint, if the organization anticipates that its efforts could lead to the restoration of rights and freedoms and stop the activity (passivity) of state bodies and officers which caused the violation. A refusal to consider the complaint must be well-motivated.

Open consideration. The work of a human rights protection organization must be open and transparent for the public control. In my opinion, annual reports on activities of the organization would be reasonable; such reports must include the list of the considered complaints, their results, expenditures and sources of financing.

Inviolent character of activities. Certainly, there happen such periods when the violent struggle with the state is justified (Nazi Germany, Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule), but this is the method of struggle too distant from the protection of human rights.

‘Do not harm!’. This principle means that the methods applied in human rights protection must not worsen the position of the victim. This follows from a more general principle that the main goal of human rights protection activities is to minimize the level of violence in the society.

Independence of the political position. For the human rights protection activities it is important that the civil life must reflect all the parts of the political spectrum and social activities. I believe that human rights protection organizations have the duty to be non-party in principle; they must not support this or that party platform in election campaigns, the political choice must be left individual for each member. In my opinion, members of such organizations must not be members of political parties or deputies of the Parliament.

Independence of the public thought. The public opinion may support ideas that are very far from those shared by human rights protection activists. For example, the public opinion in any country supports the death penalty, whereas human rights protection organizations fight for its abolition.

Honesty, maximal reliability and objectiveness of information. This principle means that the work should be governed by the English court principle: ‘To say truth, all the truth and nothing but truth’. This is one of the principal differences between human rights protection and political activities. For a politician, at best, the principle is to say the truth, but not all the truth. The information which may harm a party’s reputation is usually concealed. The well-known formula ‘He is a son-of-a-bitch, but our son-of-a-bitch’ is unacceptable for human rights protection organizations. Such organizations must attain the objective truth even if it contradicts their interests.

Modesty. This principle is difficult to formalize. Unfortunately, a phenomenon has developed that could be named ‘human rights protection tourism’, when the people calling themselves human rights protectors infrequently stay in their own country; their organizations permanently hold conferences with banquets; this is especially unbearable in the beggarly country.

Independence of the state. Since human rights protection organizations oppose the state, they must be maximally independent of the state, especially in financing. In my opinion, such organizations must not be financed from the state funds and must not use any special privileges, except those established by law for all non-profit NGOs. Nonetheless, the independence must not become confrontation. I am troubled by the prosecutor’s tone which many human rights protection organizations apply to the state, their wish to blame the power in all cases.

Honest cooperation of differently thinking people. This principle of mutual relations of human rights protection organizations with the state was formulated in 1988 by Sergey Kovalev. In everything where I agree with the power, I am ready to cooperate honestly, but whenever the state errs, I will oppose the state by using all lawful methods.

Taking into account interests of all sides involved in a conflict, including those of state organs. This is one of the main principles in conflictology — a clear understanding of the fact that harmony in a society comes not when the interests of all members agree (this would be unnatural and impossible), but when the interests of all the interested sides are regarded in the equal extent.

Encouragement of citizens’ rights by the state. Notice that a human rights protector may not be an etatist, since human rights presuppose the state’s duty to observe them. As an outstanding American human rights protector Catherine Fitzpatric remarked, ‘without just laws, independent judges and professional advocates the struggle for human rights is the elementary struggle for openness: distribution of information about crimes in the hope to wake consciousness or at least cause some worry among power structures’. That is why human rights protection organizations must keep up the dialog with the state, until the state is capable to do it. The character of the dialog is determined by the above-mentioned principles of the honest cooperation of differently thinking people, and taking into account interests of all sides connected with the conflict, including those of state organs. That is why the old formula of human rights protection in the totalitarian period — ‘protection of rights of citizens from the organized violation by the state’ — must be expanded by ‘assistance to the state in protection citizens’ rights.

The question of legalization of a human rights protection organization is a puzzling one. It is obvious that legalization must not be decided by a state organ. It is also obvious that the question whether an organization is a human rights protection one or just called itself so must be decided by human rights protectors’ community. Perhaps it should be done by the national association of human rights protection organizations, and a state body should only stamp the decision. A procedure of acceptation of a new organization by the national association should be explicitly formulated, as well as some other demands to a new organization: a code of professional ethics, a declaration of rights and duties and so forth. Yet, we first must grow and develop in order to create a national association.

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