ZLHR Statement on World NGO Day

On World NGO Day, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) calls upon all members of the public to celebrate the contributions of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) towards the protection and promotion of human rights, democracy and inclusive development across the globe.

World NGO Day is commemorated every year on the 27th of February, and it aims to pay tribute to the NGOs, HRDs and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) which perform the vital, but often unnoticed, work of defending human rights, promoting democracy and providing social assistance to the most vulnerable members of society.

The day is also an opportunity for states to reflect on the steps that they should take in order to create an enabling and welcoming environment for NGOs. The people who work in NGOs and CSOs are often exposed to great personal risk because of the systematic harassment they experience at the hands of authorities all around the world.

World NGO Day therefore seeks to celebrate the bravery of these people and call for an end to their persecution everywhere.

NGOs and CSOs enjoy special recognition from international bodies such as the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU). NGOs can obtain consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and this status will grant NGOs access to ECOSOC, its many subsidiary bodies, the various human rights mechanisms of the United Nations and special events organized by the President of the General Assembly. The AU has a Civil Society Division that has a mandate of ensuring that the contributions of civil society permeate all aspects of AU principles, policies and programmes.

NGOs that have consultative status with ECOSOC can be accredited to participate in the sessions of the Human Rights Council (HRC) as observers. This observer status grants NGOs access to the HRC secretariat, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Observer status also allows NGOs to attend and observe proceedings of the HRC, submit written statements, make oral submissions and participate in debates and panel meetings. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also grants observer status to NGOs. The Commission relies on NGOs to draw attention to violations of its Charter by state parties, bring communications on behalf of individuals and increase awareness about the Commission’s activities.

NGOs protect and promote democracy, provide humanitarian assistance provide social services, raise awareness about important societal issues and provide technical expertise that promotes sustainable development.

NGOs play an indispensable role in the promotion and survival of democracy worldwide. They play the crucial function of fighting the abuse of power by states. They expose the violation of human rights by state actors and take legal action in order to obtain redress for the victims of the human rights violations.

The legal action taken by NGOs also serves to fight state impunity and pressure governments to desist from the violation of human rights. ZLHR, for example, works on anti-impunity cases that are meant to hold state actors accountable for human rights violations.

The anti-impunity cases that ZLHR works on have the dual purpose of obtaining relief for the victims of state-sanctioned violence and of influencing the authorities to desist from violent practices that lead to expensive lawsuits. NGOs also promote democracy by spreading knowledge about human rights and constitutional rights within communities.

The advocacy work and litigation work by NGOs serves to ensure that governments remain accountable to their electorates. NGOs also provide human resources, medicines and food to victims of natural disasters across the globe.

Apart from humanitarian assistance, they also provide resources and special services to persons living with disabilities, the elderly, vulnerable women and children. NGOs also provide technical expertise that can be used by governments to develop programmes that will promote development or address pressing societal issues.

In the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, NGOs have played an instrumental role in the design and implementation of responses to the pandemic. In addition, they have been involved in providing direct health services to communities as well as providing social assistance to the most vulnerable members of society.

NGOs have documented human rights violations as many states have used the COVID-19 pandemic as a convenient excuse for cracking down on human rights and democracy.

NGOs face threats to their existence despite the vital contributions they make to society.

States are using laws to restrict the space of operation of NGOs.

In Zimbabwe, members of NGOs and CSOs are often victims of systematic harassment by authorities in the form of arbitrary arrests, intimidation, criminalisation of civil society work and character assassination. In addition, the rights to assembly and association are being restricted by Zimbabwean authorities, which has the effect of hampering the activities of NGOs and CSOs.

ZLHR therefore calls upon the Zimbabwean authorities to cease all actions that serve to restrict the operational space and work of NGOs. In addition, ZLHR condemns the systematic prosecution, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders (HRDs) and members of the NGO sector by the Zimbabwean authorities.

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

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