Emerging Voices: Civil Society Organizations and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances–Towards Enhanced Participation in the Decision-Making Processes
[Marcos D. Kotlik is a Lawyer, University of Buenos Aires, School of Law –UBA– This post is a part of his ongoing research as a Masters in International Relations candidate and as a research scholarship holder at UBA.]
In 2000, Kofi Annan submitted that “decision-making structures through which governance is exercised internationally must reflect the broad realities of our times”. He explained that better governance is achieved through greater participation and accountability and argued that the international public domain must be opened up to many actors, including those from the private sector and civil society organizations.
A few years earlier, discussions had begun within the UN that would lead to the conclusion in 2006 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPAPED). During its negotiation process, non-governmental organizations played a very active role on many levels, most notably on the treaty’s design.
Whether we call them “NGOs”, “civil society organizations” or “human rights organizations” (I will not discuss the scope of each category), I propose to examine their involvement in the negotiation of the ICPAPED as an example of global policy networks. Further, I believe that this type of dynamic throughout the treaty’s design process enabled these organizations to ensure their own enhanced participation in the decision-making processes to come, mainly through their intervention before the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.
The design of the ICPAPED
The interest of civil society organizations on the issue of enforced disappearance has much to do with several countries’ tragic histories and can be traced some decades back (as depicted here (.pdf)by Manfred Nowak). After the UN General Assembly issued the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 1992 and the OAS General Assembly adopted the Inter-American Convention on Enforced Disappearance of Persons in 1994, human rights organizations focused their lobbying in favor of a draft UN Convention.
In 1998, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the UN Commission on Human Rights approved the draft Convention in its fiftieth session (.pdf). Resolution 1998/25 requested to “invite […] non-governmental organizations to provide comments on the draft convention” along with governments and intergovernmental organizations. In consequence, the OHCHR held a two-year long consultation process, and by the end of 2000 the Commission collected the comments of eight NGOs (see document 2001/69).
Civil society organizations continued to participate in the elaboration of the Convention, as reported between 2003 and 2006 by the Inter-sessional open-ended working group on a draft legally binding normative instrument for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance, led by Bernard Kessedjian. Even without considering NGOs’ informal lobbying, these documents demonstrate how they participated in formal debates side-by-side with State delegations, issuing statements and submitting written proposals to modify the final text. The Convention still depended on its final approval by States, but the serious influence of NGOs cannot be ignored.
As early as 2000, Witte, Reinicke & Benner already explained here that “international organizations do at times act as norm entrepreneurs by using networks as platforms to advance norms in such areas as sustainable human development or human rights”. The design process of the ICPAPED suggests that the UN system was able to provide the formal governance structure in order to adopt the treaty, although nurturing an informal “coalition for change” (Annan).
It seems that the idea of different sectors coming together and collaborating “to achieve what none of the single actors is able to achieve on its own” was accomplished taking advantage of civil society’s “voluntary energy and legitimacy” and of the “enforcement and rule-making power and coordination and capacity-building skills” of states and international organizations. The main characteristics of global policy networks –as described by the former Secretary-General (.pdf)– emerged throughout the negotiation of the ICPAPED: a non-hierarchical process gave voice to civil society almost at every stage; it set a global policy agenda, framed debates and raised public consciousness, developing and disseminating knowledge at the universal level concerning enforced disappearance; it seemingly made it easier to reach consensus and negotiate agreements on new global standards; and it most definitely determined the creation of new kinds of mechanisms for implementing and monitoring those agreements. This last feature will be the focus of the next section.
The seed of enhanced participation