By Wallace Mawire
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has on World NGO Day called upon all members of the public to celebrate the contributions of Non-Governmental Organizations (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 Organizations (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
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
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.
It is reported that the legal action taken by NGOs also serves to fight state impunity andpressure 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.
It is added that 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
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, criminalization 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.