A Need for a Convention on International Solidarity

Javier Molero Segovia, Colaborador de la Oficina de Derechos Humanos en el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación del Gobierno de EspañaJavier Molero Segovia

Colaborador de la Oficina de Derechos Humanos en el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación del Gobierno de España




”Law should help us to build a more solidarity world instead of restrain solidarity”. This affirmation is self-evident and everybody would agree with it, but unfortunately, it is not real at all times.

Currently, we witness an evolution regarding international treaties, conventions and resolutions on a wide range of topics which create new innovative obligations and rights among countries in harmony with the new international reality. For instance, the Kyoto Protocol which mandates the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions among states, or the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which establishes the International Criminal Court, perpetuating International Criminal Law. These instruments contribute to achieve a higher level of progress regarding emerging international concerns, but there are always certain topics that are not primary in the international agenda, one of those is the recognition of the international legal personality of Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a fact that prevent the full realisation of international solidarity.

NGOs aims and activities are limited to one state, but they carry out activities in several countries, hold meetings in diverse places and employ personnel of various nationalities, therefore they have international nature without a law recognising it. Today, NGOs deal with problems regarding their legal personality, partially because they are not equals in terms of rights and obligations with states or international organisations, the latter ones possess an invariable legal personality, with clear rights and obligations in all places. On the contrary, NGOs have diverse legal personalities and capacities depending on the country of origin or where their statutory offices are established. This fact restrict the relations between NGOs and others international actors and the possibilities of achieving their non-profit goals with equal opportunities.

It does exist a convention on a regional level, the European Convention on the Recognition of the Legal Personality of International Non-Governmental Organizations within the European Council, an international treaty that sets the legal basis for the existence and work of NGOs in Europe. It was adopted in 1986 and entered into force in 1991. Since then, it has been ratified by 11 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Greece, Macedonia, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom). The European Convention on NGOs facilitates the activities of these actors at a European level. The rule is simple, the legal personality and capacity, as acquired by an NGO in the Party in which it has its statutory office, shall be recognised as of right in the other states parties. Therefore, in all these European countries, national NGOs possess the same rights and obligations in each state party, facilitating their actions and aims. This European treaty sets a model and a precedent for a future international convention on NGOs but it is limited due to its insufficient scope of application.

A similar mechanism could be applicable for an international convention on the legal personality of NGOs globally. This hypothetical future convention would guarantee the participation of NGOs without discrimination in dialogue and consultation on public policy objectives and decisions both in foreign countries and international organisations. It would concede a more effective role for NGOs internationally, providing them with the same capacities as other international actors and simultaneously it would serve as a mechanism of control of these non-profit organisations, being subjects to the same administrative, civil and criminal law obligations and sanctions applicable to states and international organisations. Moreover, an international convention on NGOs would mean the creation of a commission to guarantee the correct application of the convention by the states, monitoring the breach of rights and obligations.

Such an essential actor needs urgently a convention in order to facilitate its work on an international basis. When talking about human rights, we often focus on all the theoretical discourse contained in diverse conventions and resolutions, but we tend to disregard the practical consequences, especially applied and developed by NGOs worldwide. Therefore it would be beneficial for the international community the recognition of the valuable work of NGOs and their contribution to the scientific, cultural, health and education fields amongst others. Moreover, we have to highlight the lack of economic or political interest in these organisations which is a guarantee for non-biased actions in contrast with other international actors. The main goal of NGOs is the spread of aid worldwide, being the only international actor guided only by solidarity.

We must raise awareness of the essential contributions made by NGOs to the development and realisation of democracy and human rights and we must take this into consideration to develop an international convention which allow them to keep growing and evolving effectively and universally in order to reach and fill every corner of the planet with solidarity.

This article was published on 20th December 2014, for the International Human Solidarity Day, in Global Education Magazine.

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