Conference discusses the role of NGOs in human rights landscape

The role of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), clear in the legal profession and in legal education, is not always so in national legal systems, said Professor Jim Nafziger at a recent law school conference. Witness the current crisis in Libya, a controversial instance of humanitarian intervention, he said.

“The role of international non-governmental organizations has particular traction in the area of advancing human rights and encouraging humanitarian efforts,” Nafziger said. “The status of international non-governmental organizations has come of age.”

The 16th annual Speakers Series, called “Lawyering for Humanity: The Role of International NGOs,” featured professors from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the University of Idaho College of Law. Other speakers were Russy D. Sumariwalla, president of the southern Oregon chapter of the United Nations Association of the USA; Salah Ansary, the regional director of Lutheran Community Services Northwest; and Jeremiah Centrella, associate general counsel of Mercy Corps International. It was held in Room 218 of the College of Law.

Profs. Warren Binford and Gwynne Skinner moderated panels on human rights and humanitarian law and relief. More than 100 people attended the conference.

Keynote speaker was Barbara K. Woodward of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law.

 “It is no longer realistic to claim that the realm of international law is limited to State interactions,” Woodward said. “The fact is that this has never really been the case and it is even less so in the contemporary system. The important factor to appreciate is the extent to which international NGOs play influential roles in the system.”

Woodward said NGOs have indirectly contributed to the development of international law through litigation. NGOs have acted as court- or party-appointed experts for fact-finding or legal analysis; testified as witnesses; and participated as non-parties. NGOs also have participated in “soft” law decision-making processes, generally in United Nations bodies and diplomatic conferences such as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.