Internal Affairs

Internal Affairs: How the Structure of NGOs Transforms Human Rights

Wendy Wong
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Internal Affairs
    Book Description:

    Why are some international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) more politically salient than others, and why are some NGOs better able to influence the norms of human rights? Internal Affairs shows how the organizational structures of human rights NGOs and their campaigns determine their influence on policy. Drawing on data from seven major international organizations-the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Médecins sans Frontières, Oxfam International, Anti-Slavery International, and the International League of Human Rights-Wendy H. Wong demonstrates that NGOs that choose to centralize agenda-setting and decentralize the implementation of that agenda are more successful in gaining traction in international politics.

    Challenging the conventional wisdom that the most successful NGOs are those that find the "right" cause or have the most resources, Wong shows that how NGOs make and implement decisions is critical to their effectiveness in influencing international norms about human rights. Building on the insights of network theory and organizational sociology, Wong traces how power works within NGOs and affects their external authority. The internal coherence of an organization, as reflected in its public statements and actions, goes a long way to assure its influence over the often tumultuous elements of the international human rights landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6606-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Internal Affairs and External Influence
    (pp. 1-27)

    Notwithstanding their ubiquity, human rights remain largely a contested political concept. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was signed unanimously in 1948,¹ leaders from the United Nations congratulated themselves for forging an inclusive document that explicitly did not require states to commit to a hard and fast legal apparatus, which had accounted for the many concerns raised during the meetings of the Human Rights Commission that guided its drafting. Not one state, in the end, stood in the way of the approval of the UDHR in the General Assembly.² These drafters had ushered in a new world, built...

  6. 1 Salience in Human Rights
    (pp. 28-52)

    Part of the diffi culty with working on the subject of human rights is the ubiquity with which it appears in the public imagination. As Oestreich neatly summarizes, “The concept of ‘rights’ is often used in very unspecific ways and often seems designed to justify any agenda with a moral or values-based component. . . . In other words, the concept of a right gets used quite a lot in world politics, often with little or no precision and little agreement on what counts as a right” (Oestreich 2007, 19–20). Many actors now adopt the language of rights for...

  7. 2 The Importance of Organizational Structure
    (pp. 53-83)

    It is clear that NGOs do affect the political salience of rights in international politics; NGO persistence on various human rights issues since the end of the Cold War has raised the profile of certain rights over others. But why some organizations and not others? The answer in this chapter (and book) is the variation in the ways that NGOs distribute agenda-setting power. The theory is inspired by the efforts to seriously engage organizational structure and network theory within international relations. Given the spate of interest in organizations beyond the state that also have a stake in global politics (Avant,...

  8. 3 Amnesty International: The NGO That Made Human Rights Important
    (pp. 84-114)

    Although Amnesty has been the darling of analysts and the target of critics for many years, not many have actually endeavored to scrutinize, through an organizational lens,¹ the continued success that the NGO has had in promoting its cause, its frequent citation in the media and by world leaders, and its infl uence over the course of human rights. The fact of its “bias” in its reporting of human rights speaks to the very nature of the politics around the concept. From 1961 to 2001, Amnesty remained steadfast in its commitment to a narrow conception of its organizational mandate, long...

  9. 4 Other Models of Advocating Change
    (pp. 115-148)

    The Cold War constrained how NGOs acted and their influence over human rights issues of the day at the formal, institutional level. Among its peers during the Cold War, Amnesty stood out with its unique structure because it actively sought to activate grassroots networks through emphasizing membership. It is the combination of centralized proposal and enforcement powers and decentralized implementation power that led to Amnesty’s political salience as an organization and, furthermore, gave the NGO its influence on human rights politics. Many other NGOs opted for a more typical model of elite activism that targeted domestic leaders and international bureaucrats,...

  10. 5 Using Campaigns to Examine Organizational and Ideational Salience
    (pp. 149-185)

    Thus far, I have established the importance of organizational structure for the political salience of organizations. NGOs that govern through centralized proposal and enforcement powers and decentralized agenda implementation have advantages over those that don’t use this type of organization. This chapter establishes the importance of this organizational structure in shaping the outcomes of individual NGO campaigns, the primary vehicle by which many nonstate actors advance their advocacy efforts. A campaign involves concentration on a given issue, and often NGOs employ multiple tactics to push for a certain cause. For instance, as outlined below, abolitionists’ efforts in the nineteenth century...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 186-204)

    This book opened with two anecdotes. One described the birth of international human rights law, and the other chronicled a domestic project to commemorate human rights. Both epitomize the politics of human rights: at once inclusive and indecisive, full of inspiration, but vague on the details. Both cases are examples of efforts to defi nitively classify rights. The UDHR sought the input of various states, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has sought the opinions of average Canadians to create a list of human rights. A list of rights, as this book has made clear, can only tell us...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 205-214)
  13. References
    (pp. 215-238)
  14. Index
    (pp. 239-252)