Atlantic Philanthropies Report on Human Rights

Below is a 2011 report compiled by Jonathan Fanton and others on the state of human rights organizations and funding programs.

Human Rights and International Justice: Challenges and Opportunities at an Inflection Point


Gara LaMarche, President of The Atlantic Philanthropies asked me to take a broad look at funding available for human rights.  Over the past six months, Zachary Katznelson and I have interviewed over 100 people: donors, wise people knowledgeable about the field, and leaders of NGOs working on the front lines.

What follows is a composite picture of trends in human rights funding, needs identified by leaders in the field, and the degree of alignment between the donors and the grantees.  We offer a series of concrete recommendations which we hope will stimulate more giving from existing donors and attract new donors.  It will come as no surprise that the needs vastly exceed current available funds.

Our conversations took a broad view of human rights including political and civil as well as economic, social and cultural rights.  We also looked at the emerging system of international justice and norms like the Responsibility to Protect.

The Historical Moment

We believe the landscape has changed significantly over the last thirty years as the modern human rights movement has come of age.  Many of our interlocutors see the need to adapt to a changed context.  In no order of priority here is what we heard.

There is something of a Bermuda Triangle of forces coming together: the instruments for human rights protection embodied in treaties and covenants are robust and that leads to (a) buyer’s remorse among some nations as the spotlight turns on their poor performance; (b) higher expectations among ordinary citizens that their rights should be protected and (c) rising cynicism as the gap between expectations and reality proves resistant to efforts to narrow it.  We heard over and over that the next period should see a relentless focus on enforcement of existing instruments not the creation of more treaties and covenants.

We also heard a concern about the expansion of the discourse of human rights which adds to the expectations but also to the backlash against rights-based approaches as more entrenched interests are challenged.

The human rights field is crowded, with 20,000 NGOs listed on alone.  The remarkable growth of small, local NGOs in most parts of the world is a welcome development.  But can they all be sustained?  Are we likely to see a period of consolidation as international funders move on and local funding proves inadequate?  We believe attention must be given to the structure of the field with some strong local NGOs receiving support to become sustainable.  We imagine a future with a network of strong NGOs in most countries of the world, some with regional reach.  And we believe it is important for there to be a few international human rights organizations based in the South.

The highly individualistic culture of human rights organizations makes the field more chaotic and competitive than it needs to be.  The field will have more force if there are more networks that allow for coordination on more issues and focus countries.  And we believe the gap between humanitarian organizations and human rights groups should be bridged.  So too with other disciplines like conservation that have a robust local presence.  The full realization of human rights is closely linked to economic development, so all will benefit if human rights and development activities are more closely coordinated.

We often heard that the human rights field is too elite, focused on policy makers but increasingly out of touch with ordinary people.  To some extent, a growing emphasis on economic and social rights makes the discourse of rights more meaningful to people.  But there needs to be a broad-based movement, amplified by intelligent use of technology, that brings home to those in power the political consequences of failing to respect rights at home and enforce treaties abroad.

There is widespread sadness that the U.S. role in human rights is weaker both because of its own record on the war on terror but also because it does not appear to make enforcement of human rights a priority in its foreign policy.  The wave of hope that greeted Barack Obama’s election is giving way to a sense of resignation that the field needs to look beyond the U.S. for leadership.

Some counsel more attention to Europe both to encourage its leadership but also to get its house in order on issues like the Roma.  Most everyone believes more attention is due to rising regional powers like Brazil, South Africa and India.

And there is a widespread belief that the human rights field needs to move beyond “name and shame” to a more complex set of tactics that include working with reform minded elements of government and with countries like China on issues where they are prepared to make improvements.  Engagement on the ground rather than distant critiques will be the new norm.  The field needs to take the long view recognizing that the struggle will ebb and flow and that progress will be uneven, a net proposition.

As the field matures it needs to develop new arguments for respecting human rights rather than rely solely on theory and ideology.  That will require research, for example looking at the relationship between peace and justice, and economic development and the rule of law.  Think tanks and university research and training programs will have an important place in the modern human rights movement.  As will unusual allies, including religious organizations and corporations.

There is a powerful consensus that prevention should be central to the next era of human rights.  That means taking seriously new norms like The Responsibility to Protect, but also investing more in the emerging system of international justice.  The ICC, regional (and sub-regional) courts and commissions, and hybrid tribunals offer robust settings for pursuing accountability when national courts fail to act.  But, as in Serbia and Bosnia, national systems can be educated by “positive complementarity” as the examples – and personnel – of the international bodies are adopted and adapted.  Many believe that accountability can be a strong deterrent to evil doers now that we are approaching an era where there is no place to hide.

We think when the history of the human rights field is written fifty years from now, the next five years will be seen as an inflection point.  A new generation of leaders and thinkers are taking over from those present at the creation of the modern movement.  The field has a more robust and diverse set of local actors than ever before.  And it is poised to use technology and sophisticated tools to advance the cause.  The foundation is strong: good basic treaties and covenants, an emerging system of international justice, strong NGOs, poised to do more.  Later in the report we offer examples of concrete actions ready to be taken.  But the challenge is funding.  Our survey does not suggest a powerful upward trajectory of the overall number of funders or the amounts to be given.  There is a danger that the momentum for the wider realization of rights will stall unless new sources of funding are identified and existing donors do more.

We purposely embraced a broad definition of human rights, embracing work that advances human rights under different terms, sometimes indirectly.  We believe growth in funding is likely to come through activity that, for example, addresses the rule of law, election reform, links between development and rights.

This discussion paper offers concrete suggestions for issues, places and methodologies which need investment.  We hope it will stimulate a conversation among existing significant donors, large and small, about how to do more and how to attract new donors.

Trends Among Donors

We were pleased to hear that the leader in the field, OSI, plans a significant increase in its giving.  And newer foundations such as Oak, Humanity United, Wellspring Advisors, are likely to increase.  Other major donors like Ford, Atlantic and Rausing are likely to remain stable while MacArthur will decrease.  We did not hear that any of the major foundations not now in the field planned to enter   But we note that Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Hewlett make significant contributions to the realization of human rights through other programs, support for the Western Balkans nations aspirations to meet E.U. admission standards and support for think tanks and critical countries respectively.

We recommend that the newer foundations, for example, Oak, begin to see themselves as leaders in the field and deploy their “reputational assets” more consciously.

European Government Funding

The increases described above will be partially offset by the decline of funding from European governments which support human rights through development programs.  That decline reflects both the economic downturn and, in some countries, new governments less sympathetic to development and human rights.

We hear that Hivos (Holland), SIDA (Sweden), Oxfam Novig (Holland) will all be cutting funding significantly.

Newer and Smaller Foundations

There are important new foundations that are beginning to make a difference, for example, Zennstrom, Unbound Philanthropy, Rowntree Charitable Trust, Bridgeway Foundation.  These foundations give $1-7 (plus) million a year to targeted issues like migrant rights, racial justice, women’s rights or places like Sudan, Rwanda, Liberia.  We believe new foundations represent fertile ground for growth and that the field leaders should devote more effort to recruiting them.

Individual Donors

We are less optimistic that donor education projects aimed at wealthy individuals will yield significant results but we still believe it is worth the effort to support groups like the Institute of Philanthropy that are trying.  And some of today’s individual donors will establish their own foundations over time, foundations that will be prospects for human rights work.

On-Line Fund Raising

On-line fund raising is in its early stages, but has great potential.  The environment field, through organizations like, have raised significant funds and built the base for mobilization of the public for advocacy.  In the human rights field Avaaz is leading the way in recruiting small donations over the Internet, raising about $8-9 million a year.

Public Charities

Public charities like the American Jewish World Service also make significant grants to advance human rights, $14 million to 450 organizations in thirty-four countries.  The Netherlands based Mama Cash favors small NGO’s working in marginalized communities with over $3 million a year.

Funders Based Outside Target Regions

There are promising examples of philanthropies based outside a country or region that work, with some constraints, on the ground.  The Brazil Foundation based in New York derives 75% of its money from Brazilian individuals and corporations, and works on legal assistance, monitoring government spending, prison conditions as well as health and education.

A regional pool of funds such as the Arab Human Rights Fund can also be useful.  The Fund is based in the Netherlands and works in fifteen countries supporting forty groups.  Its money comes mainly from Oak, Rausing and OSI, but there are a few anonymous Arab donors.  It hopes to raise more money from the likes of Denmark and Norway and expand giving from the Middle East.

Lack of Indigenous Funding

We uncovered few examples of indigenous philanthropy directed to human rights explicitly.  Time and again we heard that local funders, whether in Latin America, Asia, Africa or the Middle East, are not interested, willing or do not feel safe to fund human rights programs.  While more could be done to facilitate people giving anonymously, international foundations which are building up local human rights NGOs with the hope that local donors will take over will likely be disappointed.  But that reservation does not apply to examples like rule of law in the Balkans or social issues like health, housing and education which can have a human rights dimension.

Overarching Observations

Putting all these conversations together, how might we describe the big picture?  We believe funding for human rights (but maybe not international justice) will increase but not as fast as the needs and opportunities are increasing.  Our main conclusion is that funding for human rights and justice will be less centralized in the period ahead.  Public charities, smaller foundations, on-line giving, and individual donors will play an increasingly important role.  As major foundations that have been early funders of the human rights field are in aggregate flat or slightly down and European governments cut back, some sharply, leadership in the field will begin to shift to newer foundations that are growing like Oak, Wellspring, Humanity United.  OSI, also growing, will remain the most important source of human rights/international justice funding.

The mapping project being undertaken by the IHRFG comes at just the right time.  We need a comprehensive picture of new, small, niche donors capable of growth, some open to partnerships.  We believe the current and emerging donor leaders need to give conscious and concerted attention to recruiting new donors and raising the size of new entrants.  And NGOs will need to strengthen their development efforts to adapt to the more time-consuming challenge of fundraising in a world where growth potential is decentralized.

A Footnote on Pooled Funds

Smaller foundations are often willing to pool their funds or partner with larger foundations.  We urge the larger foundations to expand their efforts to recruit new funders to the field and offer staff assistance to them.  Established foundations can also receive money from individuals (or other foundations) to regrant in other countries.

Most major foundations have prequalified, local NGOs which could use more investment or have a sense of places and issues where additional funding would yield clear impact.

The Global Fund for Human Rights, which gets support from Ford, OSI, Oak, Rausing, is a good model.  It currently gives away $5 million a year to about 200 small organizations, but also attractive are regional intermediaries modeled on the Arab Human Rights Fund, and the Brazil Fund and Trust Africa.


We were reassured that there is a robust consensus within and among the three groups of people with whom we spoke: funders, senior people in the field, leaders of front line organizations.  Everyone recognizes more funds are required for civil society at this pivotal moment in the evolution of human rights and international justice.  And that a greater diversity of sources is essential, especially the need to encourage new donors from beyond the United States and Western Europe.  Most everyone recognizes the central role of civil society and its need for core funding.  We did not sense any sharp division: the tension between advocates of political and civil rights vs. social and economic rights has eased considerably.  There is a growing acceptance that international justice – accountability – is an integral part of the human rights picture and that international venues have potential to improve national justice systems, but that much more needs to be done to realize their potential.

We heard consistent themes: (1) the architecture of treaties and covenants is strong and the emphasis should now be on implementation; (2) that building a strong network of local NGOs and some international NGOs based in the South is central to the promotion and understanding of norms as universal and not Western constructs, (3) that only through more cooperation among NGOs and with sectors outside human rights will true lasting progress be made; and 4) that more attention is needed to prevention, both through realization of the responsibility to protect and support for local conflict resolution.

With these general observations in mind, we offer some specific ideas for action starting with strengthening civil society.  We start with civil society, non-governmental organizations, because they have been the driving force in advancing human rights.  Most owe their existence to private foundations.  Indeed, many are reluctant to accept government money which could threaten their independence in fact or perception.

As civil society grows more robust around the world the needs are growing exponentially.

Civil Society Organizations

Based on our conversations, we foresee an NGO landscape that would include:

A robust set of local NGO’s with at least one strong general organization complemented by groups focused on specific vulnerable groups or issues like security sector reform, media freedom, judicial reform;

A group of NGOs with reach beyond a single country to a region or continent, again some general and other-focused on specific issues;

A few strong advocacy groups with an international scope, with some based in the South;

A few organizations aimed at building a mass movement for human rights and international justice.

We recommend:

That a mapping project be undertaken to identify the leading and most promising NGOs worldwide with attention to the four categories suggested above.  We have in mind a classification system that would have perhaps four ratings: strong; up and coming; small and new but promising, weak or less relevant.

That an analysis be done to identify the most glaring gaps in the picture by location and issues, with an eye toward breaking down silos and building more cooperative NGO networks.

That an analysis be done of the financial health and stability of each organization, including attention to plans for expansion.  The analysis will yield a rough estimate of the investment required over, say, the next five to ten years.  A similar analysis should be done to create a reasonable plan to fill the gaps identified in point 2.  The aggregate need should then be matched to plans by existing major donors, some of which might be motivated to do more.

That existing donors focus on the long-term stability of the strongest NGOs and a select number of NGOs poised to move to that level for significant investment.

That donors talk about how to phase out support to weak or less relevant NGO’s and to encourage mergers where sensible.

That pooled funds vehicles be created to attract new donors or move existing donors to new topics.  We could imagine a pooled fund to seed new NGOs, especially in places or fields that are under-represented.  We could imagine a pooled fund for difficult places like Burma, the Middle East, China.

That more funds be invested in strengthening the management, governance, fundraising, financial planning and advocacy skills of NGOs.  The West Africa Civil Society Institute is a useful model.

That investments be made in creating regional and thematic networks of NGOs which may require a secretariat and funds for communication and convening.  The Altus Network on Security Sector Reform is a good example.

That NGOs be trained to collect, analyze and use data effectively.  As the number of NGOs has grown exponentially, the quality of data/evidence collection has been uneven.  NGO effectiveness in advocacy and ability to challenge governments’ politicization of numbers depends on establishing credibility through good data.

That a “technology audit” be undertaken for the human rights field and that significant investment be made in upgrading technology of all kinds.  This is likely to include basic office and website projects among local NGOs, creative use of video and SMS to capture and transmit information in real time, infrastructure in support of NGO networks, sophisticated use of digital media to reach a mass audience, and security measures to protect data and make its collection and storage anonymous where necessary.

That more systematic attention be given to efforts by governments to constrain the freedom of civil society.  As civil society expands across the world, governments feel threatened.  Russia, Ethiopia, Bahrain and Venezuela, among others, have recently tightened the rules, often requiring detailed reporting on activities or limiting the amount of foreign monies an organization can accept.  There needs to be a concerted and coordinated effort to head off (or moderate) such restrictions through a “civil society freedom index” and watch.  An analysis should be made of the legal framework of major countries against a template of best practices with recommendations for improvements.

Pivotal Places

We think it is important for leading donors to review the map of where human rights funding is going, prepared by the IHRFG.  That review will reveal an uneven pattern, for example an imbalance between East and West Africa, and an underinvestment in Asia.

It would be useful for donors individually and collectively to articulate the criteria for choices of where to work.  It is important that funds not be over concentrated on “the crisis of the moment”  and that places formerly in crisis now making a slow transition to stable democracies not be abandoned by donors all at once.

We did not do a systematic analysis of sources and needs by place.  But our conversations yielded some insights we share here.

Traditional Leaders

We recommend continued investment in monitoring human rights in the United States and Europe.  The U.S. lost some of its moral leadership over the past decade and is slow to rebound.  The example it sets remains important to governments and civil society around the world which look to the U.S. to establish standards in word and deed.  It would send a powerful signal if the United States would ratify a treaty/convention or two such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Likewise, Europe has been a leader in advancing human rights/international justice in theory and practice.  As the United States has receded some, Europe, especially the Nordic countries, has been increasingly important.  Therefore it is important that issues like the treatment of the Roma, Muslims and migrants in general accord with international law and best practices.

Rising Powers

India, South Africa and Brazil are often cited as increasingly important voices (and votes) in the United Nations and other international fora (others like Indonesia, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were mentioned by some but these three are cited by almost everyone with whom we spoke).

We recommend increased attention to the international human rights performance of these countries.

We recommend investment in think tanks in these countries which can help shape foreign policy in a way that advances human rights and international justice globally.

Sub-Regional Leaders

There are often countries that are important in their sub-regions but also can play a constructive role in international fora.

We recommend a focus on these countries in two respects mentioned above: investment in NGOs working to improve domestic human rights records and think tanks which can influence foreign policy for the better.

We do not pretend to have made a scientific determination on which countries deserve special attention.  We used a simple filter of size, economic importance and a pivotal historical moment.

Among the countries we heard about are (in no order of priority): Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kenya, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, Mexico and Argentina.

Major Countries in Trouble

We recommend deeper attention to human rights in Russia.  Russia is a vast and complicated country where progress on some issues and in some places is possible, particularly at a moment when it seeks admission to the WTO.  We recommend:

Building a network of NGOs in the regions as well as strengthening half a dozen or so national institutions like the Moscow Helsinki Group and Agora.

Helping international organizations like Human Rights Watch and the Carnegie Endowment expand their work in Russia.

Protecting internet freedom.  So far the Internet in Russia has been remarkably free although there are signs that the government is preparing to tighten control.  In societies where the press is controlled and freedom of association restricted, communication over the Internet is vital to human rights activists.

China is even more difficult to work in than Russia, but probably more important.  There is virtually no space for direct human rights work within China, but from the outside groups like Human Rights in China keep the spotlight on China’s shortcomings.  The issues like Internet freedom and freedom of expression are absolutely critical to the development of a robust civil society and long-term change.

Progress is most likely to come from within on issues where the government is prepared for change, for example, juvenile justice reform.

And work in fields like the environment can have a rights dimension as strategic litigation can compel both government and industry to pollute less.  Issues like the environment can spark interest among the wider population which leads to a form of a mass movement, sometimes even demonstrations.  Environmental issues were on the forefront of the early popular movements allowed in East and Central Europe.  Tunisia and Egypt today exemplify the manner in which “non political” issues like unemployment and food prices can galvanize the public, who in turn expand their grievances and challenges, quickly or over time, to other issues.

Asia and The Middle East

These two regions have the least well developed infrastructure for defending human rights and advancing justice by international standards.  We have already commented on some countries in each region that need attention.

We think it is time to devote more attention and resources to Asia.  We recommend that leading human rights funders and NGOs meet to frame a comprehensive strategy for investment and action in Asia over the next five years.

We understand Asian resistance to interference in domestic affairs and the region’s aversion to the Western concept of human rights.  But progressive leadership within the ASEAN Secretariat, supported by Indonesia and to a lesser extent Thailand, has created a human rights mechanism, a step along the way to a commission and eventually a court on the model of other regions.  And the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions provides a useful venue for human rights discourse.  Both should be supported and donors should build ties with reform-minded staff and with progressive officials in ministries in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand.

The section that follows was written before the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.  But we stand by the central conclusion: the Middle East needs more investment from donors, especially in building the civil society infrastructure.  When the history of these uprisings is written, we believe the role of social media, while important, will have been overestimated and the role of nascent civil society undervalued.

For the Middle East we recommend support for the Arab Human Rights Fund, a grant-making entity based in Holland that supports forty groups in fifteen countries.

There is also a small but growing number of NGO’s based in the Middle East that deserve support, for example the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

There is likely to be a new openness to NGO’s throughout the region.  We recommend that a group of funders interested in the Middle East meet now and fashion a plan to build civil society.  A mapping exercise that identifies and evaluates existing NGO’s would be a useful place to start.

Helping countries in transition design a regulatory framework for NGO’s is also important.

Issues to Think About

Donors often make the most impact when they focus on a limited number of issues and places.  Our conversations surfaced many ideas from which we have selected a few to emphasize here.  Our selection criteria included: (a) frequent mentions; (b) clear opportunities for donors to make a different; (c) important and underinvested in.

Protection of Human Rights Defenders

We recommend more attention be given to the protection of human rights defenders, perhaps the most commonly mentioned issue in our conversations.  The focus on policy and systemic reform may have diluted the attention given to protecting individual human rights defenders, especially in dangerous countries like Russia, or those who work on sensitive issues like LBGT rights in oppressive countries like Uganda, Iran or Sudan.

Security Forces Reform and Monitoring

We recommend more attention to security forces reform and monitoring their performance.  Police are the arm of government ordinary people experience most frequently.  Ineffective, corrupt, repressive security forces breed cynicism about democracy and human rights.


Elections are increasingly the source of tension and violence, for example Kenya and the Ivory Coast.  More needs to be invested in technical preparations for elections so they are – and are perceived to be – conducted in a fair way.  Among the needs donors could help with: training election officials, production of citizen education materials, support of local NGOs to monitor preparation and conduct of the elections.  The forthcoming election in Nigeria is a good example of where investments could yield a significant benefit.

Internet Freedom

The Internet is one of the most powerful forces in advancing democratic discourse and practice.  It is no surprise that countries like China, Iran and Belarus recognize the threat and engage in elaborate and sophisticated efforts to censor open discussion, communication and dissemination of news on the Internet.

We believe that protecting – and promoting – Internet freedom should be a very high priority for donors.

We recommend a conference of donors with the Berkman Center at Harvard to formulate a plan for donors to invest in promoting internet freedom.  Among the ideas worth discussion are:

Support for local experts who can help media, political parties, and NGOs defend their sites.

Provision of expertise to governments on media and communication policy.

Training of judges in how to deal with the Internet and filtering/censorship questions.

Support for research on how people are using digital tools and to what effect.

Data Collection

We spoke earlier of the need to help NGOs with data collection.  But the challenge is more comprehensive.  Collecting reliable data on human rights abuses, people killed or disappeared, property confiscated or damaged and analyzing patterns that may point to those responsible goes well beyond what an individual NGO can do.

Benetech spends about $1 million a year on human rights data collection and analysis, an amount that should grow at least tenfold.

We recommend support for a conference to map data needs and formulate a plan for strengthening capacity for collection and analysis of data.

National Human Rights Commissions and Ombudsmen

National Human Rights Commissions and Ombudsmen systems are often ineffective, too close to government.  But there are instances where reform minded commissioners and ombudsmen are “working from within” on cases of discrimination and unfair treatment, who deserve support.

Link Between Human Rights and Economic Development

There are two issues which deserve careful monitoring: (a) the tendency of the international community to “go easy” on authoritarian regimes thought to be meeting good economic progress, and (b) the misuse of international aid to favor certain political and ethnic groups.

International Justice

The past several years has seen the rise of an international system of justice with great potential, but which stands at an inflection point regarding effectiveness and no longer being viewed as a Western construct.  There is a pervasive belief among people with whom we spoke that prevention should be the focus going forward.  We have seen the adoption of a robust architecture of treaties and covenants defining rights, an even stronger network of NGOs documenting abuses, and an emerging system of international justice expanding accountability.  These include the ad hoc courts and hybrid tribunals (Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia), the International Criminal Court, regional and sub-regional human rights courts and commissions and UN treaty bodies.  We think it important to think of all these venues, including transitional justice mechanisms, as part of a whole.  Their goal is not just justice, but deterrence.

Our survey of donors did not reveal significant investment in international justice.  We believe the imbalance between support for human rights and international justice should be addressed as part of a greater emphasis on prevention and deterrence.

We include bringing national systems up to international standards in our discussion.

Here are some ideas for donors on how to strengthen the international system of justice:

Positive Complementarity

Positive complementarity is a key objective.  No international or regional body can handle all the cases flowing from a crisis or the accumulation of everyday instances of discrimination.  Opportunities for funders to advance positive complementarity are plentiful.  Investments should be made in helping international and regional courts strengthen national courts whether on the model of Special War Crimes Chamber in Bosnia and Serbia or ad hoc and hybrid courts like in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Rwanda and Kosovo, where international personnel train local prosecutors and judges who then take over.

Strengthening Regional Human Rights Courts and Commissions

Europe and Latin America have well functioning regional commissions and Courts and Africa is just starting a new regional Court.  Asia lags behind but ASEAN has just established a Human Rights Commission.  In Africa, sub-regional courts, for example ECOWAS, also have potential.
More investment in local NGOs to bring strategic litigation in these (and domestic) fora is needed.  These cases can be expensive to investigate and litigate, but have potential for wide impact.

The courts and commissions themselves also need investment in training judges, prosecutors and other staff as well as basic infrastructure like library and reference materials and technology.  Their capacity to hear cases varies widely as does the degree to which member states adhere to rulings.

It would be useful to have a regular report, available on-line, of all decisions by regional (and sub-regional) courts and commissions and a scorecard on the implementation record.

Training Legal Professionals

A critical need for all regional courts and commissions is legal professionals well trained in international laws.  We applaud OSI’s support for a new International Criminal Law LLM at the University of Tanzania and urge that two or three more programs be started in Africa.

Strengthening the ICC

The creation of a permanent International Criminal Court represents a milestone in the evolution of a system of international justice.  It has three trials underway and another in the pre-trial stage, with the accused in detention in The Hague.  These trials will begin to define the Court.

There are ways in which private funders can help the Court at this inflection point.

Support the Coalition for the ICC in its efforts to add members.

Mount a campaign to pressure the U.S. to join the Court.

Help the Court with outreach in situation countries.

Support NGOs to gather evidence in situations that might be subject to Court’s jurisdiction.

Truth Commissions

We believe Truth Commissions are a good investment in allowing societies to heal and also in preventing future conflicts.  It is well recognized that Courts alone cannot handle the need for accountability in places like the Balkans or Rwanda.  We are told there is a great demand for help with commissions around the world, but very little funding available.  For example, ICTJ has requests from fifteen countries for help with the commissions underway or under consideration.

Strengthening U.N. Treaty Bodies and Special Rapporteurs

We were struck by repeated expressions of disappointment in the efficacy of the UN treaty bodies and special rapporteurs.  The Human Rights Council remains too susceptible to political machinations, with skillful maneuvers by countries like Colombia and Sudan blocking decisions on the merits.  Nations disposed to reaching verdicts, like Singapore and Ghana, get worn down diplomatically.  Still the Universal Periodic Review process is valuable within the country under review.  Local NGOs need funding to conduct studies that feed into the review and file independent reports with the Council.  The special rapporteurs meanwhile were uniformly praised for their efforts, but are voluntary posts beset by vastly insufficient funding.


We were surprised how often our interviews emphasized the need for research.  People on the frontline and thought leaders in the field strongly urge funders to support research and training.  There is enough experience now that best practices can be distilled, strategic choices made that use scarce resources wisely and evidence accumulated that can strengthen the practical arguments for promoting human rights.

Peace vs. Justice

There is a lively debate about the sequencing of peace and justice.

How to think about the relationship of peace and justice is a complex and important topic ripe for exploration.

International Justice as a Deterrent

The hope is that as evil doers are indicted and brought to account, those who would incite violence and commit crimes against humanity in the future will be deterred by the prospect of being held to account.   Is there evidence, for example, that the “shadow of the ICC” was helpful in mediating the post-election conflict in Kenya?

Does Accountability Matter

Is there a connection between post conflict accountability and the economic, social and political recovery of society?  There is preliminary evidence of such a connection in Bosnia but a thorough study is needed.

Social Media

The uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East have focused attention on the roles of technology and social media in popular movements for democracy and human rights.  No doubt they play a role, but the press may attribute too much to technology.

Research is needed on how people are using digital tools and to what effect.  How does information spread?  Do relationships formed through social media transfer into movements that take to the streets?  How does the interruption of Internet access affect a mass protest underway?

Economic Benefits of Respecting and Enforcing Human Rights

Martin O’Brien, among others, recommended research on the economic benefits to the larger society for doing the right thing for the individual.  Providing access to housing, education and health care without discrimination is likely to result in less crime, more productive citizens, more taxes paid.

A systematic set of studies might well show that respecting human rights is a good economic investment for society, thus broadening support for non-discrimination laws and practices.

Connection between Migration and Development

Another topic ripe for research is the connection between migration and development.  Some countries do better than others in the treatment and incorporation of newcomers.  Are there economic benefits to progressive immigration policies?

7)    Finding Community Leaders to Prevent Atrocities

We have discussed the widespread feeling that prevention deserves more attention and investment.  Could people who take the lead in rebuilding communities after ethnic conflict and genocide be identified and mobilized before a conflict reaches a crisis point, and thus contribute to prevention.

8)    Academic Research Centers

The question naturally arises: who does the research and where are they located?  There are several university human rights programs in the Europe and the U.S.

But it is important to have academic research centers in the South as well.  We recommend a scan of existing programs in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and an investment in a few with potential.

These are a representative sample – not all – of the suggestions we heard.  It is fair to say there is a widespread need across the field for research.  We did not hear any interest in research from many of the funders.  We think it would be useful for a foundation to organize a two day meeting of funders, NGO leaders, U.N. and national human rights commissions, judicial leaders and wise people in the field to talk about the research agenda.  We take it as a healthy sign of the maturity of the field that there is a thirst for exploration of complex topics like peace and justice, a compilation of best practices, and arguments that will broaden the appeal of human rights to a wider public.


We hope this report will generate a robust discussion of the current state and future prospects of funding for human rights.  We consider this a first draft and invite comments and critiques which will inform a revised draft.  We look forward to the findings next year of the mapping project underway by the International Human Rights Funders Group and the Foundation Center.  We would like to see a group of leading funders in the human rights and justice fields – OSI, Oak, Wellspring, MacArthur, Humanity United, HIVOS, SIDA, Ford, Atlantic, Skoll, and AJWS among them – meet to discuss the future.

Among the agenda items we recommend:

A strategy for strengthening NGOs.
A strategy for supporting research, including think tanks and university training programs.
A discussion of how to think about geographic investments, perhaps using the categories we suggest.
A review of special opportunities, issues that need more attention or are ripe for movement.  More emphasis on prevention could be a fruitful topic.  As would how to employ technology more fully.
A strategy for strengthening domestic and international justice systems, including the ICC, regional courts and commissions and positive complementarity.
A strategy for recruiting new donors to the field, including language to describe the opportunities to make a difference.

On this last point, we believe leading funders are the best vehicle for attracting new donors (with direct and indirect work that advances human rights) and need to make a conscious, coordinated and concerted effort to do so.

We conclude on a note of optimism: our conversations with leaders from every part of the world gave us confidence that there is a powerful movement, gaining strength, for the improvement of human rights and international justice.  To be sure, progress is uneven and horrible abuses continue.  Progress may seem elusive because we know more, have higher standards.  But ultimately those standards and good information about abuses will lead to changes in policy and practices – if the pressure is kept on and the human rights field properly funded.

We are at a moment of hope and opportunity: a comprehensive architecture of covenants, treaties and institutions dedicated to advancing human rights, an increasingly robust network of effective NGOs, a determined group of leaders in the field and a sense that the tide of history is moving in the direction of respect for human rights.  But nothing is inevitable.  How much and how wisely we invest in the human rights field will make be critical.  The opportunity to make a difference is what motivates purposeful action and giving.  We hope this report has described such opportunities.