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A Discussion of Non-Governmental Organizations As the True Conscience of Mankind And the Driving Force of International Humanitarian Law

A Discussion of Non-Governmental Organizations

As the True Conscience of Mankind

And the Driving Force of International Humanitarian Law



This paper in XXXXXXX subject aims to discuss the representation of Non-Governmental Organizations (hereinafter referred to as NGOs) as the true conscience of mankind and that these NGOs constitute the driving force behind International Humanitarian Law (hereinafter referred to as IHL) by marshalling public opinion and pushing reluctant states into treaties and conventions, and into action on the ground.

            The methodology of discussion in this paper utilizes the abovementioned topic as praxis for discussion after the same is put into context. This paper does not claim to be an expert discussion of the topic which is why towards the end of this paper, a presentation of key ideas and potential areas for further study and consideration shall be offered.

The study of man in all his various forms, habitats and contexts has always been an interesting part of any sociology class because of the varied complexities presented by the subject matter per se. Mankind has come a long way from the humblest beginnings: whether they be in the context of religion or of scientific evolution[1].

According to Haulton (2002), the physical aspect of man has been the subject of many debates: that despite the prowess and process of evolutionary science, there has yet to be a cure for the common cold. The intellectual and cerebral capacity of man has also been the pursuit of exploration by numerous psychologists, psychiatrists and brain-numbing studies and dissertations[2]. The moral aspect of humanity likewise has its share of experts and detractors all over the world over time since the definition of the term morality (Doniger, 1999; Ford, 1998).

As a complex make-up of physical, mental, sociological and other aspects of existence, man has been a fascinating, intriguing, disappointing, revealing and continually evolving subject (Haulton, 2002). This paper aims to explore one of his aspects – his sociological side with particular focus on his efforts to better a grossly inequitable world thru the IHL and NGOs.


Humanity has evolved over the years and centuries from the simple riverside trading communities to today’s densely populated industrialized areas – with peripheries of poverty, crime and other human degradation which is collectively and commonly called the price of industrialization (Doniger, 1999). The dichotomy of human societal evolution offers a band of experiences and profiles (Ford, 1998). Each extreme of the band reflects the best and the worst of humanity while those in between suggest the myriad of possibilities available to human propensity of the simple truths about good and bad (Ford, 1998).

History has presented the case of humanity in its varied states of being The two world wars are among the pivotal times when humanity was forced to evaluate its position (Bix, 1972). It was during the second world war when the emergent military might of Japan was squashed by onerous conditions of the victorious nations but later transformed into economic might that threatened the very nations that thought the resource-wanting Japan would simply wither and die (Roberts, 1999; Dworkin, 2001; Bix, 1972).

The constant conflicts in the resource oil-rich middle east and its periphery also reflect the irony of humanity and its propensity for peace given that some of the most major world religions have sprung from the heart of where countless wars, famine and inhumanities are being done (Doniger, 1999).

It is also interesting that some of the most intense reflections and self-evaluations of humanity as a whole occurred during conflicts that revealed man as mere mortal and not in perfect control of his current habitat called earth (Doniger, 1999; Ford, 1998; Banatvala, 2000; Puddington, 1999). It is from this purview that this paper takes cue to consider and discuss how man has addressed this situation.

The Sociological Perspective

Among the living beings on earth, it is the humans that consistently and consciously exert effort to better their predicament. As member of societies, human beings are part of the societal system and structure that they themselves have installed for purposes of having order and regulation over most key matters they deem necessary and important (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2000).

One of these is the system of government that oversees the entire systemic process of harmony, culture, and overall orderliness – ideally (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2000). Sadly, according to Ford (1998), the human being’s imperfection lends this weakness to human-based systems dependent on human discretion which is a result of exercising physical, mental, emotional and other human frailties (Ford, 1998). The result is usually a less-than-perfect system of governance with all the bureaucracy, red tape and opportunity for inefficiency, graft and corruption (Yacoubian, 1999).

This is not to say that there has never been a time peace and harmony in the history of man – the periods of tranquility, complacency and peace have also populated man’s timeline together with periods of extreme enlightenment, intellectual and industrial revolutions at the very least. However, the nomadic nature and quest for betterment inherent to man has also led to the end of many peaceful dynasties and periods[3].

Besides government, the basic need of self preservation: food, shelter and clothing as well as membership in a collective society has enabled the concept of commerce and industry to evolve from the basic home-based and cottage industry into more value-adding activities especially in the more industrialized and developed societies. However, according to the World CIA Factbook (2002), history is also the best teacher in illustrating the unique tempo of industrialization and development of the different societies.

Esim (1999), Yacoubian (2003), Hanson (2001), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1999) note that some of the more indigenous societies that modern civilization has not yet annexed or reached are the more complacent, orderly and self-sufficient and self-dependent. The hidden tribes of South Africa, Australia and of Latin America similar to the Aborigines are perfect examples of self-sufficient and virgin communities untouched by the harsh civilized world.

This is very similar to the initial reaction of the Chinese in the times when internal contentment was so profuse the Great Wall of China was built to contain such condition (Kulma, 1999). It was more the aggressive and conquering nature of the white Caucasian race, particularly the early separatist Americans from their English counterparts that spurred their quest for their own territory and named it the United States of America (hereinafter referred to as USA). It was also the conquering nature of this same race that led to China’s re-awakening from its contented slumber to which the USA is now cautiously re-evaluating its position whether their tactical maneuver was more a tactical mistake (Kulma, 1999).

It is, however, unfair to paint the color of the world as white, red, yellow, brown, black or whatever available skin color there is. At this point, there is an intermingling of race and color across the world (Doniger, 1999). It is mostly the nomadic nature that spurred international trade and commerce as well as intermarriages among cultures and races (Yacoubian, 1999). As human beings, however, people are still subject to society’s fallible laws drafted by imperfect humans (Puddington, 1999). No matter how noble or precise such legal tools are drafted, there is always room for error (Dworkin, 2001). It is also a fact that despite the so-called maturity and evolution of society, the basic premise is that that the stronger party prevails (Hanson, 2001).

Key Players

The USA:

Amidst the backdrop of a globalizing environment, USA has always enjoyed better leverage in terms of its leadership, level of industrialization and civilization as well as maturity in world affairs compared to its neighbors – or to any country around the world[4]. Its penchant to be acknowledged as a leader in technology, civilization and society as a whole has brought it recognition (The World CIA Factbook, 2002). The same has also earned contempt from some of its lesser neighbors (Kulma, 1999).

The history of USA has not been one without scars particularly during the second of the two world wars when the hiccup of industrial revolution was temporarily halted by the Great Depression in the 1920’s and boosted when the military might of the USA was called forth in the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima two decades hence (Bix, 1972). Even since, the military might of the USA together with deliberately chosen allies was a Damocles’ sword over other countries and states that wanted to do commerce and trade (Dworkin, 2001).

France, and Great Britain were among the first allies of USA later on other European and previous colonies added to their list of growing allies. The economic and political power of USA spread across the world (The Columbus Encyclopedia, 2000). The pseudo Federal Democratic government was a key institution that mapped the development of international trade and relations (Rifkin & Casey, 2000). This was mostly done through covenants and memoranda of agreements and understanding. With each gentleman’s agreement sealed by a handshake, the purview of USA held dominion over technology development, legal treatise, and cross-border trade (Hanson, 2001).

The development of USA was phenomenal amidst the other co-developing nations who were at varying and lesser paces. Add to the other nation’s struggle internally with their politics and newfound freedom from colonization, the leaders of the other nations were beset with extraneous factors beyond their control. During this time, the benevolent big brother to approach was the USA (Bix, 1972).

USA has been able to exert influence over the world through benevolent aid, bilateral agreements and similar instruments – which also helped further its battlecry of democracy and capitalism. The spread of the English language, the ideologies of industry and trade as well as drafting the same guidelines according to borrowed principles of English Common Law and later on the American Constitution – these were merely cast nets invisible to the naked common eye but encompassing the worldwide thread of economic and legal treatise (Rifkin & Casey, 2000).

Amidst all this, nations continued their struggle: some with pockets of hostilities while others with worldwide media coverage of atrocities and wars (Rifkin & Casey, 2000).

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement[5]:

It was only after the Battle of Solferino in 1959 that the International Committee for the relief of military wounded came about in 1863. This gave rise to the establishment of national committees for the relief of military wounded. 1864 saw the Geneva Convention for the amelioration of the condition of the wounded in armies in the field while the first international conference of the Red Cross was held three years after.

Fast forward to the first world war in 1914 shows development and evolution of the League of Red Cross Societies with the revised Geneva Convention in Hague. The Geneva Convention has proven to be a strong backbone of the documented agreements among warring nations specifying the rules of engagement particularly those actions that result in damage to personal property and loss of civilian lives. Overall, the said documents serves as a guideline to rules of engagement in war and conflict.

The International Humanitarian Law[6]

A major part of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is contained in the four Geneva conventions of 1949. The basic coverage of IHL includes the protection of those who are not, or no longer, taking part in international armed conflicts as well as restrictions on the means of warfare particularly weapons and methods of war such as military tactics. The tenacious approach of Germany which resulted in the genocide of Jews during the second world war was one of the compelling reasons why IHL was formed (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2000). The usage of IHL is limited to international armed conflicts which are defined as those in which at least two states are involved as opposed to purely internal or non-armed conflicts.

A main facet of the IHL is the protection of those who do not take part in the fighting, such as civilians and medical and religious military personnel. An extension of the protection applies to those who have ceased to take part such as wounded, shipwrecked and sick combatants, and prisoners of war. The humanitarian aspect of the IHL focuses on the categories of the persons involved and their entitlements to respect for their lives and for their physical and mental integrity. The humane treatment is couched in legal guarantees in all circumstances with no adverse distinction. Further, the restrictions on rules regarding captives and prisoners of war is clearly set to identify the same: particularly the implementers and executors of the IHL with main emblems as the red cross, red crescent and symbols identifying cultural property and civil defense facilities.

The other aspect of IHL is the legal nature of the agreement: with such documentation and enforcement, it has to give rise to complementary domestic laws. As to the means of warfare and restrictions, these are behaviors that are normally very hard to control when parties are at the heat of conflict (Ford, 1998). However, the premise of man using armed conflict as a means to resolving the same while maintaining man’s humanity is the tightrope that the law leans on. This is together with the slowly gathering critical mass amongst nations and states who wish to maintain the equilibrium and strive for peace.

Non Government Organizations (NGOs)

It has been said that the dominant organizations in the world are governments and corporations (The Case Against the WTO, 2000). These entities wield enormous political, economic, technological and encompassing power over every individual on earth that it is imbibed with given the nature of its being. Governments such as those of the developed countries wield the resources of their nations as well as the innate support of their constituents. Corporations on the other hand are usually driven by the economic motive while tagging along emergent strategies and focus that contribute to its main purpose for existing (The Columbia Encyclopedia).

Per didactic reasoning and definition, NGOs are organizations that are borne outside of governments and corporations but have an emergent purpose of espousing volunteerism among civil society towards goals for the betterment of humankind.

NGOs were deeply involved before and during the creation of the UN (Alger, 2002). Before the founding of the United Nations, NGOs led the charge in the Geneva conventions of 1864; multilateral labour conventions adopted in 1906, and the International Slavery Convention of 1926; all stemmed from the work of NGOs who infused the international community with a spirit of reform (Annan, 1998).

NGOs have long been held in high esteem particularly those that have been around for some time as well as those whose activities have borne fruit for the betterment of mankind[7]. Examples are the GreenPeace movement which espouses protection and preservation of the natural planet earth thru natural resource programs, World Wildlife Fund which is similar to GreenPeace but focuses more on the wildlife as unwilling victim of humanity’s increasing civilization and industrialization, the Red Cross and Red Crescent which deal more with casualties of war at the varying stages of armed conflict: intermediation, caring for casualties during the war and post-war rehabilitation both for the warring factions as well as those who are disinterested but directly affected by the war.


The coming together of governments and NGOs have been the first to materialize since both entities share similar goals of alleviation and betterment of their societies as a whole. The scope and means of the entities are usually the variable factors that affect the means of attaining each organization’s end. Governments usually have domestic or intrinsic focused objectives which may be shared with the more local-based NGOs. The more pervasive and ubiquitous-caused NGOs such as GreenPeace and Red Cross have cross-border abilities in implementing their specific causes.


World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations

Amidst the backdrop of the almost 500 NGOs worldwide, the World Association of Non-Governmental Associations (hereinafter referred to as WANGO) was initiated in 2000[8]. It has become one of the premier international bodies for NGOs that are committed to the ideals of universal peace, justice, and well-being for all humanity[9]. WANGO concerns itself with universal values shared across the barriers of race, religion, culture and politics. With the integration and interweaving of such participants, WANGO can provide a means for NGOs to more effectively accomplish their key deliverables.

WANGO was set up as a non-religious, non-political and non-profit organization operated exclusively for educational and charitable purposes. As in any organization composed of multiple members and cross-denominational boundaries, a common venue serves as the yearly opportunity for the members to come together, network and share vital information that will add value to the accomplishment of their individual as well as collective WANGO objectives.

The size of the WANGO network also poses the multiplier effect problem wherein the number of members multiplied by their collective means, resources and specific purposes intermingle with each other that an integrated whole may be worth less than the individual parts. Although ideally the spirit of WANGO is synthesis, partnering and cross-collaboration with member NGOs and governments with a sprinkling of civic-minded corporations, it is easier said than to actually harmonize the objectives, projects, activities and means of the proponents involved.

Similar to what WANGO is currently doing, the individual NGOs strive to attain their noble objectives by projects which they aim to make known in the relevant areas. Some have been more successful than others as in a rich and diverse society will show. In the same light, the hierarchy in getting donors and volunteers for such purpose can reach what is called “donor fatigue” which is when a well-meaning donor refuses to add to the resource pool for reasons that necessitate cessation of such donation and participation.

The NGOs are also defined by the objectives they represent: despite being humanitarian as an ultimate goal, some NGOs are set up for a specific portion of the ultimate journey such as poverty alleviation, rights of the minority, and nature conservation – all contributing to human well-being.

It is also interesting to note that as life becomes more complex, so do the initial drafted charters of pioneering NGOs have to evolve together with the changing times. Either that or that necessity will breed the birth of new and more relevant NGOs. This is primarily the context of an NGO which seeks to address society’s relevant and pressing needs that cannot be server effectively and efficiently by other societal players particularly the government and corporations.

Legally, the corporation is an artificial being that is also accorded legal rights and responsibilities among other things (Rifkin & Caset, 2000). As an artificial being composed and run by human beings, it also assumes a certain personality and should the said personality be akin to the sociological and moral development of man, then the corporation as an NGO offshoot becomes a key player.

As a result of such interaction among the collective conscience of humanity in various parts of the globe, it is therefore a huge effort to marshal these different organizations with varied ideas, means and purposes but with an ultimate goal: each adding value to the overall effort to man’s well being but with equitable balance of self sufficiency, commerce, luxury and sustainable development. The various means of religion, culture, practices, programs and similar activities all contribute to the incessant and continuous effort of each NGO to propel their charters to the next level.


This paper has strived to discuss the topic put forth in the beginning of this article with the accompanying scope and depth of discussion given the available resource materials.

The topic of non-governmental organizations as well as the virtual backbone being the recognized international humanitarian law takes the reader to consider both the weakness of the human psyche in terms of waging war upon its race versus the strength of the more enlightened populace who follow letter of the law without much compunction as the spirit of peace, harmony and absence of armed conflict.

The ability of a certain law which has been agreed upon with multi-party agreements and treaties simply add to the convoluted web of contracts, regulations and systems that govern the multi-faceted dimension of humanity in living with itself. It also hinges on an almost inhuman but apparently possible manner of regulating armed conflict when tension and emotions run high at the peak of battle.

The profile of players in the enforcement of the IHL as well as the NGOs working with competitive governments adds spice to the already explosive mix of humanity’s aim to provide system and structure to the complex interactions particularly involving armed conflict or those that tend to gravitate towards armed conflict.

Finally, the varied intentions, goals, agenda and means of the same varied NGOs, albeit ideally sharing the propensity for peace, harmony and goodwill among diverse nations round up nicely the brew set in this paper.

At the very least, this discussion has laid out the parameters for further discussion while at most, further doors and avenues shall be made available to those who wish to use this paper as springboard for legal, ethical, moral or simply coffee-talk discussion. What is important is that the discussion in this paper arises out of man’s propensity for conflict – and that by conflict and its resolution does the humanity of man improve due to harnessing his capabilities of resolving and smoothing the process that gave rise to the said conflict.




Alger, C. (2002). The emerging roles of NGOs in the UN system: From article 71 to a people's millennium assembly. Global Governance, Vol. 8.


Annan, K. (1998) Address to the 51st Annual DPI-NGO Conference, United Nations, New York.


Banatvala, N. (2000). Public health and humanitarian interventions: developing the evidence base. British Medical Journal, July 8.


Bix, H. P. (1972). Report from Japan 1972 – Part II. Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol 4, Issue 4.


Developments in selected non-member economies (economies that are not members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) (1999). OECD Economic Outlook, June.


Doniger, W. (Consulting ed.). (1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopaedia of World Religions. Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.


Dworkin, A. (2001). The global policeman must play by a new set of rules. New Statesman, October 29.


Education World Available at []. Accessed [23/09/03].


Esim, S. (1999).NATO's ethnic cleansing: the Kurdish question in Turkey. Monthly Review, June.


Ford, S. (1998). Hugo Grotius on ethics and war. American Political Science Review.


Hanson, G. (2001). Expansion strategies of US multinational firms. National Bureau of Economic Research.


Houlton, S. (2002). Call to ignore patents: UK Intellectual Property Commission encourages developing countries to produce generic versions of vital medicines. Pharmaceutical Executive, November.


International Committee of the Red Cross. Available at []. Accesed 23/09/03].


Kulma, M. G. (1999). The evolution of U.S. images of china. World Affairs, Fall.


Puddington, A. (1999). Wrong world order. National Review, June 28.


Rifkin, D. B., and Casey, L. A. (2000). The rocky shoals of international law. The National Interest, Winter.


Roberts, T. (1999). Can sanctions be alternative to war? National Catholic Reporter, June 18.


The case against the WTO (2000). The Progressive, January.


The Columbia Encyclopaedia, Sixth Edition Copyright 2000, Columbia University Press, Columbia.


The World CIA Factbook (2002) Available at []. Accessed 23/09/03].


University of Berkeley Online Library. Available at []. Accessed [23/09/03].


World Association of Non-Governmental Association. About WANGO. Available at []. Accessed [23/09/03].


World Intellectual Property Organization (2001). WIPO intellectual property handbook: Policy, law and use. Geneva. June.


Yacoubian, G. S. (1999).The efficacy of International Criminal Justice. World Affairs, Spring.


Yacoubian, G. S., Jr. (2003). Evaluating the efficacy of the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia: implications for criminology and international criminal law. World Affairs, Winter.


[1]  a. University of Berkeley Online Library (

   b. Education World (

[2] University of Berkeley Online Library (

[3] Education World (

[4] WIPO Intellectual Property Handbook: Policy, Law and Use. Geneva. June 2001

[5] International Committee of the Red Cross []

[6] International Committee of the Red Cross. What are the origins of the International Humanitarian Law? []

[7] International Committee of the Red Cross. [].

[8] Ibid.

[9] About WANGO. []

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