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About Us
Written by Administrator
Sunday, 27 April 2008 17:32
In 1989, a number of human rights defenders founded an NGO called Bruxelles-Droits de l’Homme/ Brussels- Human Rights/ Brüssel Menschenrechte”, later re-named to Droits de l’homme sans frontières. The organization has gradually expanded into Human Rights Without Frontiers International (2001) to embrace its branch offices in Belgium, China, USA, and Nepal as well as its associate members in Armenia (Pro-Democracy Association), Bulgaria (Tolerance Foundation), Georgia (Human Rights Information and Documentation Centre), Iraq (Assyrian Aid Society), and Japan (Life Funds for North Korean Refugees), Russia, and South Korea. Since 1997, the Belgian branch of HRWF Int. has been an associate member of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

From its inception, the main focus of our activities has been monitoring, research, and analysis in the field of human rights as well as promotion of democracy and the rule of law on national and international level. In these endeavours, we have been guided by the understanding that it is not sufficient for international norms and standards in the field of human rights to be approved and adopted by governments. States enjoy different levels of approximation to democratic development and the rule of law and human rights norms do not always have a “taken-for-granted” quality. In many cases, they still need to undergo a long, and sometimes painful, process of socialization in order to become integrated into state policies. The success of this process would be predicated, among other things, on the strength of non-governmental human rights networks to instigate changes towards human rights promotion.

We also work on the assumption that ideas, and not only state interests and positions, matter in international relations. In this respect, international human rights instruments can be seen as representing the ultimate expression of collective ideas of social justice. As such, we consider their implementation to be of utmost importance as an overarching framework for the ideas of liberty, democracy, the rule of law.

Within this context, HRWF Int. has adopted an approach to human rights promotion, which is wider in scope than lobbying on a specific human right. Our emphasis is on human rights advocacy, which we understand as a process, through which we bring new ideas, norms and discourses into policy debates and promote norm implementation by pressuring target actors to adopt new policies and by monitoring compliance with international standards.

In pursuit of this overarching objective, the HRWF Int. has been using three main strategies: information, communication, and leverage. Gathering trustworthy information of situations of human rights violations is essential in constructing a solid case which merits attention and advocacy. Our strength is in having access to diverse sources of information being part of wider advocacy networks with assured flow of information bringing in not only facts but also testimonies of people whose lives have been affected. On the level of communication, we try to generate attention to issues at stake, alert policy-makers to long-term implications of specific human rights abuses and open up channels of communication on the international arena as means of gaining attention. New issues can be brought up for public debate through various advocacy techniques: media attention, debates, hearings, and larger conferences. Though information gathering and communication are an important part of our advocacy campaigns, the crucial strategic step is to gain enough influence to induce changes in state positions and policies. In this respect, we seek to bring the human rights record of targeted countries to the light of international scrutiny using moral leverage, which some observers have called the “mobilisation of shame”. Exploring different avenues of communication with international organisation or individual countries, we seek to put forward solid arguments on the link between human rights issues on one side and economic aid or other forms of cooperation, on the other.

Part of our advocacy cycle is devoted to formulating issues and identifying possible “target” loci of advocacy, which are primarily in the domain of international organisations. The United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are the main venues for targeted and structured human rights advocacy activities.

The European Union is an important international actor and human rights have become an integral and important part of its external relations. The principles of liberty, democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights are goals of the foreign and security policy of the European Union and underpin its co-operation with third countries. In this respect, the EU institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the European – are crucial to human rights promotion worldwide.

The effectiveness of our advocacy activities is difficult to assess due to the long period over which real changes may occur. Instead, we try to measure relative success on different stages of the advocacy cycle: 1) agenda setting, i.e. whether a specific issue has generated enough interest to be publicly debated; 2) changes in the discourse of states and international organisation; 3) changes in institutional procedures; 4) changes in policies; 5) changes in behaviour of states in conformity with human rights norms and standards.

Crucial to the success of any advocacy activities is the strength of NGOs to mobilise enough political energy and will and their ability to link up with other organisations in cohesive networks, which have sufficient credibility and power to spur actions on particular issues.

Our work on North Korean human rights and refugees is one case from the most recent activities of HRWF Int. that can best illustrate our advocacy philosophy and approach. The overview of this project is presented in an annex.

Advocacy Activities: Case Studies
Project on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees
Human Rights without Frontiers Int. (HRWF Int.) launched its project on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees in 2001 in the wake of the publishing of Les aquariums de Pyongyang: Dix ans au goulag nord-coréen by the French author Pierre Rigoulot, one of the members of the HRWF Int. Board of Directors. The book describes the life of Kang Chol-hwan who has spent ten years in Yodok camp and is considered one of the first published works bringing light to the fact that there are camps in existence in North Korea.

The project gained momentum with the process of collecting information on human rights in North Korea and the situation of North Korean refugees fleeing into China. Throughout this process, HRWF Int. identified reliable partners and organisations in the region working on this particular subject and expanded its network for obtaining trustworthy information. The collection of personal interviews in the field and testimonies of people who have suffered in camps or have witnessed the suffering of other people provided a solid basis of information and helped us articulate specific issues at stake, which allowed us to move on to the next stage of our advocacy cycle – the communication. The publication of an article in New York Times in June 2002, re-printed in International Herald Tribune1 few days later, about the results of HRWF Int. fact-finding mission on practices of infanticide and forced abortions in North Korean camps provided a strong impetus to this stage of our project, as the interest in North Korean human rights grew quickly and attracted much attention on the side of international media, NGOs and intergovernmental organisations. Meetings, interviews and small-scale hearings organized by HRWF Int. for Members of the European Parliament, members of national parliaments as well as officials of UN agencies, the EU institutions and other intergovernmental organisations opened up new channels for communication on issues related to North Korean human rights and refugees that have previously not existed.

In March 2006, the communication stage of our project was brought to a higher level of success when a wide-scale public hearing was organised at the European Parliament under the aegis of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe (ALDE).

The attention given to North Korean human rights and refugees spurred action on the policy level. In two successive years, at sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in 2003 and 2004, the European Union acted as the main initiator and sponsor of two resolutions dealing with North Korean human rights. These resolutions were adopted, as a result of which the position of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was established. Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn from Thailand was appointed Special Rapporteur for a period of one year to study the human rights situation in North Korea and to report his findings and analysis to respective UN bodies and institutions. In November 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, urging its government to fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Thus far, the project can be considered successful on several stages: agenda-setting, changes in the discourse of international organisations, and changes in institutional procedures. Human rights in North Korea and the plight of North Koreans fleeing their country have generated enough interest to be an issue of public debates. The flow of information providing testimonies and personal accounts of those who have been affected by the violation of human rights has created certain momentum leading to changes in the discourse of international organisations such as the European Union and the United Nations. The UN General Assembly resolution and the two resolutions of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which were drafted, tabled and sponsored by the European Union, are a clear demonstration of these changes. The establishment of the position of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is representative of changes in institutional procedures, which are needed as mechanisms for flow of information and leverage.

Tangible changes in state’s behaviour towards full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in conformity with international norms and standards are slow to come. Nevertheless, the small steps along the way are representative of the cohesion of transnational advocacy networks, which we are part of, and of their ability to mobilise their strength and energy around issues that threaten to undermine the validity of international human rights norms.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 03 June 2008 18:38 )