The nexus between NGOs and IGOs in advancing human rights and democracy: the case of Ukraine

Yulian Kondur

YK Ukr

Yulian Kondur is a Junior Expert at the Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human rights (ODIHR). The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not necessarily reflect those at ODIHR



This paper seeks to analyze the interrelationship between the international institutions – it will be referred to them throughout the text as intergovernmental organizations (IGOS) – and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The latter act as entities contributing to the process of shaping a collective “national interest”[1] and changing public policies. In this light, it is necessary to highlight that the author considers the set forth examples through the lens of the theory of “interest-group liberalism” which focuses on how domestic actors partake in shaping states’ interests. On the other hand, the application of the “network institutionalism”[2] theory offers an extensive approach to conceptualization IGO-NGO cooperation in this study. In applying this theory, it is presumed that international institutions act as independent actors, not as agents of states’ foreign policy[3].


There is undoubtedly a growing institutionalism in global governance in which both international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and local NGOs take a fairly robust position, particularly within the framework of human rights and democratization, which has had a significant impact on state policies and practices around the globe. It is widely accepted to assign a role of watch-dog to NGOs, yet it has also become a common practice to work side by side with a state in advancing certain areas – such a distinction may be underlined by a conditional division on advocacy and service-sector NGOs respectively. It may, however, be possible that the activities of both types can be carried out by the same NGO, as long as they do not contradict one another[4]. On the whole, a strong and vigilant civil society is one of the vitals of promoting democracy, transparency, anti-corruption and human rights – this is one of the attractions of the NGO sector that embodies a cutting edge of innovation at the present time.

However, in evaluating and analyzing the impact of NGOs on States in their human rights and democratic agendas, it is important to emphasize the economic component of relations between IGOs and NGOs: there is a number of IGOs – such as the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) etc. – which interact with NGOs in various ways such as , for example, capacity building of civil society or facilitation of specific changes in national policies that are related to human rights issues. It is important to note here that both NGOs and IGOs in such a relation are acting as independent subjects, and that NGOs remain or, at least, should remain apolitical in accordance with their very nature.

Ukrainian NGOs and INGOS

Ukraine with its transition from the Soviet regime into a democratic state has been going through a number of transformations, which in many regards have touched upon not only the public but also civic sector. Speaking about the development of Ukraine’s civil society, It is of great importance to underline the role of one of the biggest INGOs influencing the development of global civil society in general and Ukrainian civil society in particular – the International Renaissance Foundation (IRF)[5] whose mission lays in fostering an open, participatory, pluralist society based on democratic values in Ukraine; It is also part of the Open Society Foundations network founded by investor and philanthropist George Soros. Bringing this example reveals the interest of private donors in building a society with a broader equation of itself with a globalized world and particularly with the values of open society. This particular organization is aimed at strengthening independent actors whose role, by being vigilant and active, is to monitor and balance the power of sovereign states. “We’ve been around since the country gained its independence from the former USSR in the early 1990s. Our mission is to lend financial and organizational support to aid the development of a vibrant, open society. We help citizens come together and organize to stand up for their civil rights, and to tackle issues that the state has either been unable or unwilling to address” – said the deputy executive director of the IRF.

Ukrainian NGOs and IGOs: the role of EU

It is of great relevance to analyze the current state of affairs of the economic and political reforms stemming from the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement[6], which foresees cooperation with the civil society of Ukraine under the article 443 of the agreement – “to involve civil society organizations in the implementation of this Agreement, including its monitoring, and in the development of EU-Ukraine bilateral relations”[7]. Mentioning the reform path of Ukraine, it has to be noted that not only the EU is involved into the backing of the Ukrainian civil society but other IGOs too.

It is of great importance to understand that having a strong democracy and viable human rights mechanisms is a major prerequisite for joining the EU membership: this includes not only the development of governmental sector but also that of civil society – this is of paramount importance for Ukraine at the present time in both political and economic domains. Not only is the vibrant civil society beneficial for the good of strong democracy as such, but also serves as a deterrent from outer threats and attempts to destabilize the country’s status quo – preventing orchestrated manipulation from aside, so as it was done in the East of Ukraine by the intrusion of Russian military forces and their remote influence on the local population through evoking pro-Russian sentiments in the Donbas region.

Moreover, strong civil society organizations set up for monitoring, a service delivery of and more effective cooperation with authorities, are especially beneficial in countries having the post-Soviet legacy, as Ukraine does. So, it can be inferred that the Ukrainian public authorities are willing to involve credible NGOs into closer cooperation, expressing its commitment to democratic values, so that the EU considers further approximation with Ukraine being a worthwhile move. Such an involvement paves the way for the creation of the “national interest” in a broader context: it means the extent of unilateral determination of state policies is to be reduced; the government should take into account considerations of the civil sector. Most importantly, the nexus between the EU and Ukrainian NGOs has an economic part which foresees economic support[8] to the NGOs. In author view, this element addresses the EU’s precaution and a sort of guarantee for successful implementation of reforms[9]. At the same time, the government, in turn, is not excluded from the activities performed by the NGOs, moreover, is a primary partner.

The role of the UN

The role of the UN agencies, in this particular example – the UN Development Program Ukraine (UNDP), can be emphasized in shaping the legislative reform path of Ukraine: “Creating an effective, accountable, responsible parliament”[10] is the heading of the conference, and reveals the synergy between the NGOs and Ukrainian Parliament. The role of UNDP here is rather indirect: it serves as a tool for creating a platform for defining the direction of the reform of the Parliament.

Another example can be the role of another UN agency, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, the UNHCR has been providing substantial humanitarian and financial aid to those fleeing the conflict – IDPs (internally displaced persons) – mainly through the local NGOs. The cooperation with NGOs has enabled to conduct the needs assessment[11] and put forward exact ways of providing help[12] and establishing cooperation with public authorities. Such activities can be characterized as service-providing ones, which, in fact, supplement the government’s failure or inability to provide necessary help for those in need. Yet, it has to be noted that such cooperation between the UN and local NGOs is vital, particularly in dealing with the consequences of armed conflicts. However, the NGOs are not simply involved in carrying out these activities but also involved in the negotiations with relevant public authorities which makes it important to remind who, actually, is responsible for taking care of its citizens. Such cooperation has already contributed significantly to the adoption and streamlining of new laws[13] concerning the status and support of the Ukrainian IDPs.

By illustrating these two examples, it can be inferred that the UN is serving as a platform for bringing the civil society closer to the government, and, in fact, making it possible to facilitate the democratic vector of future public policies in relation to the issues, for example of, of IDPs or transparency of the Parliament.

The role of the OSCE

Another similar example of an IGO serving as a platform for bringing civil society and state authorities together is the OSCE. At the present time, apart from the presence of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine[14], it is extensively involved in strengthening both the capacity of the civil society and their cooperation with public authorities on human rights issues through the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).[15] “It is only by bringing together all of the relevant actors that we can build an effective coalition to counter hate crime in Ukraine,” said ODIHR’s Civil Society Adviser, James Stockstill. “Civil society and law-enforcement personnel can reinforce each other’s efforts and ensure that victims are well supported”[16]. ODIHR’s primary task is to assist participating States in implementing their human dimension commitments, and so, enhancing the capacity of civil society is fully in line with the OSCE mandate, as strong and vigilant civil society is an integral part of a truly democratic society.

Another example of this organization’s influence can be seen through the support[17] being given to the NGOs for promoting the human-rights-based agenda. [18] It is also a common practice when NGOs are involved in the monitoring of certain areas of government’s compliance with its human rights obligations in relation to specific groups such as the Roma national minority, for example.[19] Protection of minorities, especially of Roma in Europe, has been one of the priorities for the OSCE for more than a decade, and it remains a topical issue, as Ukraine is to respect the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and to provide all necessary measures to ensure that their rights can be realized on the equal footing. To this end, there is a close cooperation established with a number of NGOs and public authorities to address such issues as housing, health, political participation, education employment and tackling intolerance and discrimination at the institutional level.


By presenting given examples, the author attempted to draw the parallels between the IGO-NGO nexus and public policies in advancing democratic and human-rights based agenda. In accordance with the very foundations of democracy, where the people are an ultimate source of power and public institutions are merely delegated with their powers, a proactive role of NGOs goes absolutely in line with the system’s foundations – NGOs are a possible and highly beneficial way to balance and monitor the actions of those in power.

Most importantly, it has to be concluded that by providing assistance in establishing closer cooperation between NGOs and a State, the IGOs play a fairly weighty role – they may serve as a platform for negotiations or where possible even support financially the pro-democratic vector of development, as demonstrated in Ukrainian example. Last but not least, the role of a sovereign State is not diminished, rather conversely – It is expected that a State will encourage the development of civil society and bring about more transparency to its public governance. Ultimately, the actions of IGOs on strengthening civil society are aiming at improving the public governance, state’s openness and public trust to authorities. In the globalized world, however, the role of sovereign States has changed and needs to be reconsidered, since it is widely accepted that states are not the only ones who influence international politics, law and policy making.

[1] Ian Hurd, International Organizations: Politics, Law, Practice, chapter 2: theory, methods and International Organizations, (2nd edition, 2013).

[2] Anna Ohanyan, Network Institutionalism and NGO Studies, Int Stud Perspect (2012) 13 (4): 366-389, See:

[3] Supra note 1.

[4] Supra note 2.

[5] International Renaissance Foundation, Official webpage, See:

The Association Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, of the one part, and Ukraine, of the other part, Brussels 21.03.2014 (Preamble, Article 1, Titles I, II & VII), 27.06.2018 (Titles III, IV, V & VI, related Annexes and Protocols) e.i.f. 01.09.2017.

[7] Ibid, article 443, part (b)

[8] Mapping Study, CSO Engagement in Policy  Formulation and Monitoring of Policy Implementation, Kyiv 2014, See:

[9] The European Neighborhood Instrument is the EU financial instrument dedicated to the Neighborhood for the period 2014-2020. Other funding sources are the thematic programs, focused on human rights and civil society, See:

[10] “Civil society helps reform the Ukrainian parliament”, Kyiv 2016, See:

[11] UNHCR, Global Shelter Cluster, Ukraine: Needs Mapping, See:

[12] UNHCR, Shelter Cluster: Who is doing What, Where and When, See:

[13] UNHCR, Ukraine, Legislative Update, Kyiv 2017, See:

[14] OSCE, Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, See:

[15] OSCE/ODIHR, Strengthening co-operation between civil society and state authorities to counter hate crime: the focus of OSCE/ODIHR capacity-building event in Kyiv, Kyiv 2017, See:

[16] Ibid.

[17] OSCE/ODIHR announces funding for civil society projects in Ukraine, Warsaw 2016, See:

[18] OSCE/ODIHR announces funding for civil society projects in Ukraine, Warsaw 2016, See:

[19] Situation Assessment Report on Roma in Ukraine and the Impact of the Current Crisis, Warsaw 2014, See:

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