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Organizations Dedicated to the Preservation of Human Rights

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Amnesty International: Myanmar

Amnesty International: Africa

Wikipedia article on Amnesty International

Amnesty International: About page

Armstrong, David, Lorna Lloyd, and John Redmond. International Organizations in World Politics. 3rd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

International Committee of the Red Cross offical site

The ICRC's Mission Statement

Wikipedia article on the ICRC

International Governmental Organizations (IGOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

In international relations, there are two main groups of players, international governmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). IGOs include the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) and have states as their members. NGOs members are not states but, rather, individuals. Examples of NGOs include Greenpeace and Doctors without Borders. In the area of human rights, NGOs have been active, pressuring governments to act by collecting information and lobbying for new international laws. They are often founded by private individuals concerned about events in the world and hoping to effect change. As they are not affiliated with any government, NGOs have the advantage of being neutral. As such, they can lobby for laws that benefit all people rather than certain countries. Two of the most famous and effective groups are Amnesty International (AI) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Amnesty International (AI)

Amnesty International was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson and Eric Baker. It began as a letter writing campaign aimed at freeing political prisoners. Soon after its inception, AI had members around the world. According to its website, “AI’s mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights.”

In 1977, Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts. AI attains its goals through two main ways. The first is by lobbying for the creation of new international treaties. One such campaign culminated with signing of the 1984 Convention Against Torture. The other method AI uses is monitoring. Every year, AI releases a report detailing the human rights concerns it has discovered in each country around the world. These concerns can be general (e.g., concern about the armed conflict in the Sudan) or specific (e.g., the house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar). These reports draw attention to human rights concerns worldwide and exert pressure on governments to take action.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Like AI, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an IGO committed to the enhancement of human rights around the world. However, the ICRC’s history, mandate, and achievements are very different from those of Amnesty International. The ICRC was founded by five Swiss in 1863 and had as its original goal the treatment of those wounded during battle. The ICRC was instrumental in the signing of the Geneva Conventions that together form international humanitarian law.

In 1949, the Geneva Conventions officially gave the ICRC a mandate to implement and oversee these humanitarian laws. The ICRC’s mission statement states that the organization “is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance.”

The ICRC is mainly involved during times of conflict and its duties include:

  • ensuring that parties adhere to the Geneva Conventions;
  • treating injured and wounded parties;
  • supervising treatment of prisoners; and
  • providing assistance to those affected by the conflict.

To gain access to areas were conflicts are occurring, the ICRC maintains a policy of neutrality. This means that, unlike Amnesty International, the ICRC does not publicize abuses of human rights it may encounter. The organization has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on three occasions: in 1917, 1944, and 1963.

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