QUICK ESCAPE FROM SITE

Understanding the role of NGOs in the legislative process

  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often play a critical role in advocating for changes in law, policy, procedure and administrative rules.  NGOs bring the stories of the individuals they serve to the process.  These stories form an important part of the evidence needed to convince policymakers of the needed changes. 
  • NGOs should carefully analyze the ability of the organization to lead an advocacy effort assessing its strengths and weaknesses.  NGOs should also ask whether it is appropriate for their organization to take a lead role on the particular advocacy effort being considered.  For example, are other NGOs more experienced or well-established in advocating for the particular advocacy effort?  What are the ways in which the NGO may support efforts already in progress?  What are the ways in which the NGO may initiate new efforts to complement the efforts in progress?  NGOs may choose to lead, support, remain neutral, and in some cases, oppose legislation.  Advocates should discuss the position their NGO will take on any given piece of legislation internally before making that position know externally.     
  • Before embarking upon an advocacy effort, advocates should ask themselves the following questions and address the following issues:
    • Are there any legal limitations on NGO participation in legislative advocacy?
    • Are there any practical limitations on NGO participation?
    • Other issues to be addressed:
      • The rules for NGO participation in the legislative process differ in every country.  For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, members of parliament or government ministries or the president may submit draft laws, but NGOs either cannot or typically do not submit draft laws. 
      • The permissible role for NGOs will have an enormous impact on their ability to advocate for laws.
      • In some cases, NGOs may participate in the drafting process but NOT in the introduction of the legislation.
      • In some cases, then, NGOs must find allies and champions who are allowed to introduce legislation before the parliament.
      • NGOs may have difficulty accessing information on draft laws, but can sometimes use national laws on freedom of access to information to assist or the public relations office of the parliament. 

See: Legislative Advocacy Resource Guide:  Promoting Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Global Rights, 43, 2005.

 

CASE STUDYCivil Society Legislative Advocacy Center – Nigeria

In many nations, and particularly those with newer democracies, NGOs can play an important role in educating legislators and staff on their responsibilities as members of a democratic government. Building the capacity of members of the legislature or parliament to scrutinize proposed laws, interact with civil society, and exercise oversight of the executive branch is critically important. The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center in Nigeria focuses on these types of training activities, with a specific focus on how legislation impacts the Millennium Development Goals. Trainings conducted by CISLAC have focused on the importance of legislative aids, power relations between government bodies, constituent relations, constitutional provisions of legislative committees, providing ways to make room for civil society intervention in budget policy, improving the level of productivity of National Assembly members including the planning of pro-poor policies, the role of committees in lawmaking, oversight, constituency relations, and good governance practices.

Case Study:  One way in which local and international non-governmental organizations may participate in the legislative process is to assist in drafting legislation to address violence against women and girls.  Maintaining good working relationships with government ministry officials and others tasked with drafting such laws may enable local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide feedback on draft laws.  UNIFEM and OSCE/ODIHR may also be asked by national governments to comment on draft laws addressing violence against women and girls and may consult with local and international NGOs in doing so.  By maintaining contact with regional and country offices of such organizations, NGOs may be able to insert themselves into the process of drafting legislation thereby ensuring the promotion of the rights and needs of victims.   

NGOs can also ask for assistance from experts on drafting legislation on violence against women. The Advocates for Human Rights (The Advocates), a non-governmental organization based in Minnesota, United States has a long history of reviewing draft domestic violence laws based on partnerships formed over the past fifteen years with non-governmental organizations and government ministries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Former Soviet Union (FSU).  The Advocates has recently reviewed the draft laws of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, and Tajikistan.  The Advocates has also commented on the draft domestic violence laws of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania, Mongolia, Poland, Romania.  See: Commentary on National Laws, StopVAW, 2010.   

In providing comments on draft laws, The Advocates draws upon international experience and experience in the state of Minnesota where the domestic violence law has been in effect for thirty years and has been amended each year to improve the protection of victims, the prosecution of the perpetrators, and the prevention of domestic violence.   

The Advocates reviews the draft law in light of international standards and best practices in the field of violence against women and girls.  The Advocates also researches and reviews any work by the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women undertaken in the requesting country, and concluding observations by the various treaty body committees.  Understanding the requesting country’s efforts to draft laws to address violence against women and girls as well as the international human rights community’s assessment of the efforts provides a context for The Advocates’ commentary.

The Advocates carefully reviews each provision of the draft law. The Advocates evaluates each provision in terms of how it meets international human rights standards generally, as well as how it meets the standards laid out in UN model legislation, and how it reflects lessons learned in the field of legal reform on domestic violence internationally.  The Advocates offers detailed comments on each provision pointing out concerns and providing constructive and practical suggestions to the requesting country for use in revising the draft law.  As appropriate, The Advocates highlights case examples of successes and challenges in other countries to provide the requesting country with a sense of the consequences of enacting certain provisions.  The Advocates also cites research to support the constructive criticism of any existing provisions. 

Armenia
In early April 2008, The Advocates reviewed Article 2 of the DRAFT domestic violence law of Armenia.  In written commentary on the law, The Advocates stated: 

Article 2 includes the following language which should be omitted from the Law. “Specific behavior of a victim of domestic violence is willful behavior of the probable victim of domestic violence, which promotes, creates conditions for committing that violence.”  Such language does not promote victim safety and offender accountability, nor does it communicate a zero tolerance for violence message. These should be the primary goals of any law or government intervention in domestic violence cases. Instead, this language implies that the victim may be held accountable for the violence against her. This is extremely dangerous language to include in a law which purports to protect victims of violence.  Similar language has been included in other domestic violence laws in the region and has resulted in serious harm to victims of violence.  

For example, the Ukrainian government enacted a domestic violence law in 2002.  After five years of implementing this law, the West Ukrainian Centre “Women’s Perspectives” published an assessment of the experience with the law. Their assessment addressed several problems with the Ukrainian law and its implementation, including, but not limited to, a provision in the law on provocative behavior.  In particular, the report addressed the problems of official warnings about provocative victim behavior being issued based on the perpetrator’s explanation alone, and issuing such warnings to discourage victims from requesting police assistance in the future.  The report concluded that “the legislative norms on the victim behaviour and liability for such behaviour violate human rights of domestic violence victims and are discriminatory against women….”  H. Fedkovych, I. Trokhym, M. Chumalo, Combating Domestic Violence: Ukrainian and International Experience (2007).

In late April 2008, The Advocates reviewed a subsequent draft of the law from the working group of government and non-governmental representatives.  The second draft of the law had removed the language referring to “specific behavior of a victim of domestic violence” that “promotes, and creates conditions for committing that violence.”  The Advocates noted that this “change [was] a significant and vital step toward ensuring victim safety and promoting offender accountability.” See: The Advocates for Human Rights Comments on The DRAFT Law of the Republic of Armenia on Domestic Violence, StopVAW, 14 October 2008.  

The Women’s Rights Center, a non-governmental organization in Yerevan, Armenia continues to advocate for the passage of the domestic violence law in consultation with a working group they established.  The working group consists of representatives of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Police, the Forensic Medicine Center of the Ministry of Health, Yerevan City Administration, courts and others.  In 2009, UNFPA Armenia began an analysis of national legislation to determine any gaps in the protection of women from discrimination and violence.  The UNFPA experts issued legal conclusions, including that “Domestic violence, the most prevalent form of gender-based violence, is not penalized as a specific criminal offense. Deficiencies in existing legal provisions, procedures and remedies impede the rights of victims to safe and prompt access to justice.” (See: Response from the Women’s Rights Center to outreach letter, March 2010)

 

Kazakhstan
According to the Institute of European Law and Human Rights, legislation concerning violence against women was initially drafted in 2000.  Around this same time, Kazakhstan signed or acceded to a number of international human rights conventions:  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Acceded to on 26 August 1998); International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Acceded to on 26 August 1998); Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Acceded to on 26 August 1998); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Signed 2 December 2003); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Signed 2 December 2003). (See: Response from Institute of European Law and Human Rights, February 2010; Kazakhstan International Treaties, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights)

Since 2000, the Republic of Kazakhstan has drafted a national plan to address the improvement of the position of women and gender equality for 2006-2016 and joined the United Nations Secretary General’s campaign to Say No – UNiTE End Violence Against Women.  The Republic of Kazakhstan has also worked in cooperation with international organizations, including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). (See: Response from Institute of European Law and Human Rights, February 2010)

In August 2008, The Advocates for Human Rights were invited to review the domestic violence law of Kazakhstan when they were in draft form by the UNIFEM Regional Office in Almaty, Kazakhstan; and again in May 2009 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) in Warsaw, Poland.  OSCE/ODIHR organized meetings with members of parliament and representatives of women’s non-governmental organizations in Astana, Kazakhstan in June 2009. The Advocates traveled to Astana to these meetings where discussions of the draft law occurred. OSCE/ODIHR’s final opinion was published on 27 October 2009.  While a few concerns remained, the law had been improved to remove the “official notice” of the impermissibility of committing domestic violence, and the length of protection orders was extended from 5 to 30 days on application to the prosecutor.  On December 5, 2009, the President of Kazakhstan signed the Law "On prevention of domestic violence" and the Law "On amendments to some legislative acts of Kazakhstan on the issues of prevention of domestic violence." (See: Comments by The Advocates for Human Rights on the Draft Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Counteracting Domestic Violence,” 22 May 2009)