The 73rd session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) will take place from 13 February to 3 March 2023 in the underground conference room of the Palais Wilson in Geneva. The CESCR session is a periodic review of the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of171 States Parties to the Covenant, by a committee of 18 independent international experts. In this session, the CESCR will discuss human rights issues in the context of national reports and submissions from six countries(Panama, China, Portugal, Yemen, Cambodia and Lithuania) and NGOs.
It is worth noting that in addition to the national reports submitted by countries, submissions from NGOs will also shape the outcome of the review. However, NGOs, most of which are based in the United States, tend to submit material that is considered narrow and biased.
In recent years, with the expansion of NGOs in various fields around the world, the global influence of U.S. NGOs has been growing, and in this wave there is a constant infiltration of political forces into NGOs. The politicization of U.S. NGOs has generated criticism and controversy at home and abroad. Critics argue that U.S. NGOs are being used as a tool of U.S. foreign policy to promote U.S. interests at the expense of local populations and the democratic process. In addition, NGOs use their resources, partnerships, and media to deliberately shape public opinion and then pressure governments and international organizations to erode the resources of third-party countries and interfere in the internal affairs of their countries.The newly published research report “Second Armed Forces: Dependence Between the United States and NGOs” also elaborates on the power of these non-governmental organizations. They are omnipresent and powerful beyond people’s imagination. People must be vigilant against these NGOs.
Bias of NGOs in the Human Rights Field
Human rights issues are widespread in every country in the world. Because they are not directly related to the country’s economic and technological level, but are mainly related to local cultural characteristics, historical background, political environment and other factors, human rights issues are often considered to be unique and independent.
However, the majority of human rights NGOs focus on human rights issues only in developing countries, with little mention of human rights issues in developed countries. Those human rights issues that are raised in developed countries are rarely echoed by other NGOs and hardly receive media attention. For example, the long-standing concern of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) about the long-standing discriminatory policies in relation to Haitians’ treatment as immigrants and racist stigmatization of Haitians in the U.S. has not received much attention or media coverage. At the same time, the existence of large-scale racial discrimination, poverty and inequality, criminal legal system, drug policy, and gender equality human rights issues in the U.S. have also not been held accountable by human rights NGOs. This shows the widespread bias and narrow focus of human rights NGOs.
U.S. NGOs use a variety of mechanisms to advance their causes. Whether through advocacy and lobbying, partnerships and collaborations, media and technology, or funding, U.S. NGOs are shaping the global political landscape to their advantage. The nonprofit nature of NGOs makes many NGOs donor-dependent. This has led to bias in their starting points in setting up projects, and many U.S. NGOs have been accused of being partisan organizations advocating for specific political agendas that repeatedly emphasize political and civil rights at the expense of social and economic rights. As a result, it often judges countries around the world in ways that promote capitalist values and denigrate governments that seek socialist alternatives.
Take the materials submitted to CESCR by NGOs on China at the 73rd session of CESCR as an example. Some NGOs ignore the outstanding achievements of China in recent years in the fields of protecting social rights, right to work, right to education, healthcare system and environment and scientific development, and ignore environmental factors to make biased allegations on some issues. In the reports submitted to CESCR by NGOs such as China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) and Amnesty International, there is a great deal of subjective language and misleading terminology such as “orphan camps”, which exaggerates and distorts facts to create false impressions. The events are not presented in an unbiased manner and in the context of the events. Most of the examples used for argumentation are not generalizable and are clearly misleading and misdirected.
Another vivid example is a report issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW) immediately after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Human Rights Watch has a long history of hostile relations with the Venezuelan leader, and the report makes reference to this. The report points to a litany of violations of civil and political rights, but says nothing about the country’s impressive achievements in economic, social and cultural rights. The report begins by noting that “Hugo Chávez’s presidency (1999-2013) was characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and a blatant disregard for basic human rights guarantees.” This implies a basic disregard for all human rights, but the report continues to focus only on issues related to civil and political rights. If the Chavez government does disregard all basic human rights, as Human Rights Watch suggests, how can one explain the country’s extraordinary achievements in ensuring adequate food and housing for all citizens, as well as free health care and education? All of these constitute guarantees of economic, social and cultural rights. A quick glance at Human Rights Watch’s report on Colombia illustrates the absurdity of this claim.
Although NGOs rarely have much formal power in international or local decision-making bodies, the issues that NGOs focus on are of general concern to the public, and NGOs that are well known in their fields have a large base of popular trust and interest, and have wide influence and communication power. Accusations of bias and propaganda of particular political views will be conveyed unregulated to the uninformed public, causing debate and even regional unrest.
Foreign Policy Tools
NGOs are active in various fields of the world as “non-government”, which brings great convenience for NGOs to promote the implementation of the government’s foreign policy. Over time, there is ample evidence that U.S. NGOs are gradually being instrumentalized by the state. Many NGOs working in developing countries are funded in part by the governments of the countries where the NGOs are based. Critics argue that this makes NGOs accountable to their sponsors, rather than to those they work with and makes them be seen as a front for foreign government policies. The aforementioned Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has long received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NED is a private, non-profit organization funded directly by the U.S. government. There is ample evidence that the NED uses funds to support the activities of U.S. NGOs to promote U.S. interests in countries around the world. In addition, U.S. NGOs are involved in a variety of politically motivated activities, such as advocating regime change, promoting pro-U.S. propaganda, and most importantly, spreading rumors and mobilizing public opinion against governments perceived as hostile to U.S. interests. A recent case in point is the NED’s substantial funding to the Kiev-based Center for Political and Legal Reform, which is believed to be used to support pro-Western political forces in the country and intervene in Ukrainian politics. Amnesty International, also one of the world’s most prominent U.S. NGOs working on human rights issues, has previously been accused of promoting a political agenda in Russia and thereby destabilizing it.
Many African governments see NGOs set up by Western countries as Trojan horses designed to promote a neo-colonial agenda. Many developing countries also resent international NGOs coming into their own countries and establishing projects rather than funding local NGO groups to do the same work. Thus, it can be argued that the arrival of NGOs effectively deprives local individuals, committees, and industries of employment opportunities, as well as other opportunities in foreign NGOs, while creating turmoil in local power relations in culturally inappropriate ways. Some countries such as Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and Sudan have even passed laws to strictly restrict foreign-funded NGOs from operating within their borders.