In light of reading Bond’s “The Backlash against NGOs,” I found myself growing defensive on behalf of NGOs. While Bond writes that NGOs are problematic in that they are single-issue driven, dependent upon commercial media and tend to distort facts in order to strengthen their cause, I think that the presence of NGOs is absolutely necessary in promoting universal human rights and democratic governments. While, yes, NGOs are indeed susceptible to the aforementioned negative qualities, I think it is fair to say that the benefits outweigh the costs.
Perhaps my reflections on the effectiveness and necessity of NGOs originate from my hopes that they do in fact bring about change. Over the past year, I have become increasingly involved in the Association of India Deoli Camp Internees 1962 (AIDCI), an organization that I hope will slowly become trasnsnational. The organization consists of a group of ethnic Chinese ex-internees who were wrongly accused and incarcerated without fair trial in India during the Sino-Indian border conflict. Moreover, these individuals never received an apology or compensation from the Indian government and instead were met with further discriminatory laws after their release.
The majority of the organization’s membership is based in Toronto, but ex-internees have been re-scattered across the globe. As an organization, our goal is to unite ex-internees and together mobilize to appeal for a formal apology from the Indian government. While I think it is noble that this particular group of ex-internees have built up the political agency to help themselves and solve their own problems, it of course incites a lot of passionate anger when ex-internees talk about the UN’s failure to uphold the human rights guaranteed in the 1949 Geneva Convention. Indeed, ex-internee stories reveal multiple violations of the 1949 Geneva Convention, yet the Indian government did not even receive a slap on the wrist. In the past year, I have heard sad stories and horrifying ones. I have heard of the lack of medication and professional medical assistance. I have heard of kids having to dig their parents’ own graves. I have heard of beatings and inhumane forms of punishment and the implementation of fear as organization. I even heard of a 12-year-old girl buried alive.
The UN failed to address all of these issues as they were happening from 1962 to 1966, just as they have failed to appropriately address many other international issues. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that NGOs exist to cultivate and maintain a multilateral approach to international governance. Yes, some NGOs are less laudable than others–we look at NGOs’ Kony 2012 campaign and cringe at how commercial and ineffective such organizations are, and how narrow their issues and resolutions were designed. We realize that these massive, commercial organizations detract from the ones that actually are struggling to leave a positive impact or to resolve a human rights issue. But I would argue that it is just as much the responsibility of the individual to research and thoroughly look into the organizations that they feel are worth supporting or not supporting. For every “cop-out” NGO, there is one that is sincerely struggling for a cause–to denounce and criticize all NGOs as a whole would be unfair.