European NGO Forum

YMGE 2018

Letter from the Director

Dear delegates,

Hello and welcome to YMGE 2018! My name is Maria Gargiulo, I am a senior at Yale majoring in Statistics & Data Science and Spanish, and I will be serving as the director of the European NGO Forum this year. On campus I serve as the Co-President of Yale Code4Good, a member of the Statistics & Data Science Departmental Student Advisory Committee, a researcher in the Political Science Department, and an undergraduate teaching assistant in the Statistics & Data Science Department, alongside my involvement in a number of the Yale International Relations Association’s constituent programs. Academically I’m interested in the intersection of human rights and statistics, ethical uses of data, and Latin American history and politics. In my free time I can usually be found running, exploring, or drinking tea.

I’m also very passionate about the non-profit sector, and I’m excited to be able to bring this passion to YMGE through a committee of this nature. When I was a delegate in high school, I had the opportunity to participate in a number of NGO Forum committees and found them challenging, yet enjoyable, and I hope you do as well! I really appreciate committees of this nature because they provide a change in perspective from typical debate as delegates represent organizations in lieu of governments.

I look forward to meeting and working with each and every one of you in the future. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns before the conference about position paper writing, debate, or this topic guide, please do not hesitate to contact me at See you in November!

All the best,

Maria Gargiulo

Committee History

Non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, are usually non-profit organizations, often operating internationally, that act independently of governments or other international governmental organizations to address issues of human concern. The earliest reports of organizations fitting this description date back to the 1700’s, but the term NGO only came to have meaning with the establishment of the United Nations in 1945. Chapter 10 Article 71 of the United Nations Charter used the term NGO to reference organizations not pertaining to any particular government working on issues of general interest to the UN and allowed such organizations to apply for Consultative Status within the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).  In 1948, 45 NGOs, mostly large international bodies, had ECOSOC Consultative Status, but as of December 29, 2016 the number of NGOs holding Consultative Status has grown to 5,083, the Yale International Relations Association being one of them. As per ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, Consultative Status is currently broken down into three categories - General, Special, and Roster - all with the goal of permitting NGOs to participate in the work being done by the UN.

Despite the presence of NGOs within ECOSOC and the UN as a whole, broadly speaking, there is no standard schema for classifying organizations as NGOs, which is to say that there is no single and generally accepted definition of what an NGO is. This is likely due in part by the diversity of issues and approaches NGOs take on today. Early organizations were primarily concerned with the anti-slavery and women’s suffrage movements, but modern organizations operate within a much broader issue space. This ambiguity makes it difficult to develop universal protocols under which NGOs should conduct their operations, but some international bodies have been making strides towards the creation of general guiding principles for NGOs. For example, in 2008, the Council of Europe published a list of recommendations for European NGOs regarding best practices and legal compliance. During debate, delegates should research past attempts at the formation of general guidelines for NGOs and consider the feasibility of a truly universal doctrine that all organizations wishing to be considered NGOs should abide by.

Topic Background

Broadly speaking, delegates in the European NGO Forum will be discussing the role of NGOs within the international system. In the context of our committee, delegates should consider the term “international system” to refer to the relationships and interactions between national governments and international bodies (ex: the UN or the EU) and as such, discussion will be centered around establishing general principles to guide the work of NGOs on both national and international scales. Below I provide two discussion topics that delegates will be expected to address during debate and resolution writing, but these represent the bare minimum to be discussed and delegates are encouraged to think creatively about the institutional and substantive matters that guide their unique organizations and may be generally applicable to the work of other organizations. In this section, I will provide context for each topic as it relates to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an organization that will not be represented in the committee itself, to demonstrate the types of considerations that NGOs must make when deciding how they will carry out their operations.

Discussion Topic 1: Navigating concerns of national sovereignty

The term sovereignty first emerged in the political sphere in the 16th century, when it was used to describe the “ultimate overseer, or authority, in the decision-making process of the state and in the maintenance of order.” At this time and in this form, Jean Bodin, a French philosopher, used the principle of sovereignty to extend the power of the French king during feudal rebellion, eventually aiding in the nation’s transition from a feudal system of governance to a national system of governance. In the modern era, however, the word sovereignty has taken on a different meaning. In the present is commonly defined as “a country’s independent authority and the right to govern itself.” This means that an independent nation, which in the context of this committee will be considered a nation formally recognized by the UN with its own organized government, has the right to exist without the interference of other nations (assuming the government is not violating international law.)

As expressed in Chapter I Article 2(1) of the UN Charter, the organization of the UN as an institution is “based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members,” meaning that no one nation has the right to exist as a member of the UN more than any other nation. In addition to invoking the principle of national sovereignty to discuss membership equality, the UN has also explicitly recognized the importance of national sovereignty for a myriad of other issues pertaining to national governments. For example the term plays a part of the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, and Declaration on Respect for the principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States in their electoral processes.

As seen in the aforementioned examples, national sovereignty is guiding principle for both the UN system and the international system as a whole, and for this reason, it is a standard that NGOs are expected to uphold with their operations. In the most literal sense, this requires that the government that controls the area where a specific organization is operating must approve, at minimum informally, of the organization’s operations. This, however, is not always what happens in practice. Some governments are unwilling to have NGOs operate under their jurisdiction, despite the fact that issues may exist that could plausibly be addressed, at least in part, by the work of NGOs. With this scenario in mind, our committee must consider the questions: When, if ever, should an NGO feel empowered to breach a nation’s sovereignty in order to carry out their organizational mission? Assuming an organization breaches a nation’s sovereignty, should that organization have restrictions on the types of activities they should be allowed to carry out? How should these circumstances and stipulations be reflected in law and policy? Who should make these decisions?

As a committee, we can look to the ICRC as an example of how NGOs strike a balance between carrying out their mission and observing national sovereignty. Closely guided by the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, which provide a set of rules that should be followed during armed conflict and serve as a fundamental unit of international humanitarian law, the ICRC feels empowered to take action despite concerns relating to national sovereignty when humanitarian law is being violated. The ICRC views the respect of international humanitarian doctrine as a requirement for claims of national sovereignty to be considered truly legitimate. In every case, the ICRC does try and obtain the consent of governments or warring factions, but this does not always end with an agreement that any or all parties find acceptable, so sometimes the ICRC is left to breach sovereignty in a definitional sense if they wish to carry out their mission. For example, in the past, the ICRC has been able to successfully provide aid to Liberia, despite the lack of a centralized government capable of offering consent, but when operating without consent in in Nigeria during their civil conflict (July 1967 - January 1970) they were met with hostility that culminated in an ICRC plane carrying supplies being shot down by government forces. As evidenced by the ICRC’s experience in Nigeria, failing to obtain consent from governments or warring parties can have disastrous consequences, which is something that all organizations should keep in mind when considering the circumstances under which it may seem acceptable for sovereignty to be prioritized less than civilian wellbeing.

Discussion Topic 2: Operating in areas of conflict, crisis, or emergency

Many international NGOs, particularly humanitarian aid based organizations, follow missions that necesitate operations in areas that are dangerous or unstable. These circumstances may arise due to armed conflict, natural disaster, or political unrest, among other causes and NGOs are often inclined to act. Relief might involve providing emergency medical supplies and treatment, reporting on the events of the fighting, or participating in rescue missions, all with the goal of alleviating human suffering. It is no easy task, however, for organizations to offer this critical assistance and there are many considerations to be made before action is taken.

One consideration that needs to be made is the safety of aid workers. In areas of conflict, aid workers often find themselves in the crossfires of the fighting, which can result in injury or death. For example, in 2016, “158 major attacks against aid operations occurred, in which 101 aid workers were killed, 98 wounded and 89 kidnapped.” NGOs have an obligation to strike a balance between ensuring the safety of their workers and providing assistance to those facing crisis or emergency, and they do so on an organization by organization basis. One attempt of managing this balance is through the creation of safety or neutralized zones, which under international humanitarian law (Geneva Convention IV) are established “to protect from the effects of war, wounded, sick and aged persons, children under fifteen, expectant mothers and mothers of children under seven.” Many national governments also have codes in their military manuals that enforce the idea of conflict-neutral zones for the purpose of providing emergency aid services.

It’s not always as simple as creating safety or neutralized zones–sometimes governments are unwilling to cooperate in the establishment of said zones or warring factions violate their spatial boundaries–and perhaps worse, sometimes aid workers are targeted by warring parties for aiding people somehow associated with an enemy, even if the organization is providing aid to members of all parties impartially. In a Fall 2017 interview, Peter Maurer outlined aid worker security as one of the top challenges facing the ICRC’s work. He notes that “[state and non-state armed actors] do not respect the neutrality of hospitals and traditional humanitarian work but instead try to make them an instrument in warfare.” For example, in 2013 seven aid workers were kidnapped in Syria after their convoy was stopped by a group of gunmen, who sources of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said were affiliated with the Islamic State, but the ICRC has not verified these reports. Four of the workers were eventually released, but the fate of the other three workers is unclear. The ICRC and other organizations operating in conflict zones try to avoid situations like this by negotiating with governments and warring factions, but agreements are not always reached or followed, as was the case with establishing safety or neutrality zones.

Current Situation

In this section I will provide an overview of several recent events related to the discussion topics outlined above. The events profiled are international in nature, and represent only a sample of the current events that relate to this committee, but should provide context useful for understanding the current state of global affairs as they relate to NGOs. As a reminder, our committee does not aim to specifically address any one of the events outlined below, so you should think of them as case studies related to larger themes surrounding NGOs that should be addressed both in debate and resolution writing. After profiling each event I provide a few example questions to simulate thinking on how these events might be representative of larger concerns related to NGOs.

Discussion Topic 1: Navigating concerns of national sovereignty

Government crackdowns on NGOs

In the past, governments across the world have cracked down on both domestic and foreign NGOs carrying out work in their countries, exercising the principle of national sovereignty. Recent events in India and Pakistan provide two examples of how this is currently happening and suggest that these events are part of a larger conversation about NGOs and democracy.  

In December 2017, Pakistan’s government ordered 27 international humanitarian aid organizations to cease their operations in the country; the Ministry of Interior gave them roughly three months to withdraw. Some of the organizations included on this list are: Action Aid, the Danish Refugee Council, Open Society Foundations, Oxfam Novib, Plan International, and World Vision. The Minister of State for Interior Affairs, Talal Chaudhry, explained that these NGOs were shut down because of their work in Pakistan for which he stated was “beyond their mandate.” Additionally, Chaudhry claimed that the organizations ordered to leave were spending their funds irresponsibly, not actually working towards their stated missions, and working in parts of the country where they were not allowed to work. Many of the NGOs being kicked out did not receive information on the government’s reasoning.

Separately in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been leading a crackdown on domestic NGOs by restricting their access to foreign funding, a key part of these organizations’ finances. Modi, however, is not the first Indian leader to restrain the work of Indian NGOs–this charge began back in 2010 when the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) was revised, tightening it–he has just furthered it. For example, in 2016 alone approximately 13,000 NGOs operating in India, some of which were local divisions of large international organizations, had their FCRA licenses suspended or canceled. It is believed that the conflict between Modi’s Government and NGOs operating in India will intensify in the coming months as Modi tries to bring nuclear power to parts of the country currently without reliable access to electricity and Indian environmentalist organizations try to counter the expansion of nuclear energy. In the past, domestic NGOs have received a clear message: “steer clear of challenging the government, avoid foreign funding, or both.” Only time will tell how these environmental organizations will fare if the Modi’s government continues on its current trajectory.

In both cases, the governments accused organizations of not working towards their stated missions or not responsibly using their funds to support their programming, both very legitimate concerns. Sometimes it is true that NGOs improperly manage their money, are fronts for criminal organizations, or stray from their mission to secretly pursue other politically or religiously motivated aims, but this does not describe the vast majority of NGOs. Additionally, NGOs are sometimes billed as being undemocratic because they are not voted on, and foreign funding (for those receiving it) is often perceived as corrupting “the will of the people” because of a lack of domestic effort and buy in. Again these might be legitimate concerns on the part of the government, but in the case of a majority of NGOs, these are likely non-issues, so a different balance of government skepticism to unrestrained NGO operations is probably more optimal than the present one.

Questions to consider:

  • What types of policies can be created to govern the balance between government skepticism and open NGO operations?
  • Who should be making these decisions?
  • What responsibilities should governments have to NGOs seeking to operate in their countries?
  • How should we evaluate NGOs’ contributions to democracy or openness of society?

NGOs and the EU migration crisis

In June, the European council signed an agreement related to the current migration crisis that has some NGOs, particularly Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), rethinking their operations in the Mediterranean Sea. The agreement outlines increased European support for Libya and requests that other vessels operating in the Mediterranean not interfere with the work of the Libyan coastguard, despite reports that the Libyan coastguard has been reportedly committing human rights violations.

In the past, organizations like MSF coordinated rescue missions in international waters under the direction of the Italian maritime authorities, but after the passage of this new agreement by the European council, the Italian government has shifted those responsibilities to Libya, where many of the migrants are fleeing from. When the Libyan coastguard intercepts vessels carrying migrants, they are sent back to Libya, where they typically face inhuman conditions upon arrival. At this point in time, NGOs are not being notified that their assistance is necessary for rescues, and if it is requested, they have no good options for where to take migrants–Italy will no longer accept them because of new closed port policies and if they are sent back to Libya they will likely have their most basic rights violated. Due to the lack of acceptable options, MSF and other organizations will have to consider if and how they will continue their operations in the Mediterranean.  

In mid-July, another organization, Proactiva Open Arms, called out against these new policies in light of several migrant deaths. The organization stated that three migrants had been left clinging to a raft after 165 other migrants had been rescued from a damaged boat by the Libyan coastguard. Neither the Libyan government, nor the Italian government, offered an explanation or took responsibility for this situation. Proactiva has accused the Libyan coastguard of subjecting migrants to inhumane conditions and Italy’s Interior Minister has accused NGOs operating in the Mediterranean of encouraging gangs involved in human smuggling.

Questions to consider:

  • What should NGOs like MSF do if they are faced with options that are all unacceptable according to their organizational mission and values?
  • How might this scenario be different if the Libyan coastguard wasn’t accused of human rights violations?
  • How can the international community support the NGOs working to rescue migrants under the context of the new agreement passed by the European council? Is it their place to step in?

Discussion Topic 2: Operating in areas of conflict or emergency

Aid worker safety

In June 2018, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a briefing stating that 71 air workers needed to be pulled out of Yemen because of mounting hostilities against the organization and its staff members. The ICRC has been working in Yemen since 1962 and during the present conflict has been involved with carrying out emergency medical services, visiting detained persons, and providing clean water and food assistance to civilians. These current activities have been “blocked, threatened and directly targeted… and [the ICRC sees] a vigorous attempt to instrumentalize [the] organization as a pawn in the conflict.” Threats of this nature are not new to staffers working in this area, but after a staff member was killed by a gunman in March, the organization is no longer taking any chances.

This briefing came only a short period before reporting on the 2017 data from the Aid Worker Security Database became publicly available. In 2017 alone, 313 aid workers were victims of major attacks - 139 were killed, 102 were wounded, and 72 were kidnapped - 285 of which were national aid workers. The countries with the most attacks were South Sudan, Syria, and Afghanistan with 46, 31, and 15 attacks respectively. Although there were fewer unique attacks than 2016, 2017 marks a three year high in the number of aid workers affected by attacks and had the second highest annual aid worker death toll to date (with recording beginning in 1997).

Questions to consider:

  • Under what circumstances should NGOs pull aid workers from violent contexts?
  • Should there be differences in decisions made for national aid workers (workers that are stationed in their home country) versus international aid workers (workers that are not stationed in their home country)?
  • How might organizations change their operations to simultaneously minimize putting aid workers in danger and maximize help to civilians in need?
  • Is there anything that the international community can do to help NGOs in situations like this?

Represented Organizations

Accion International


Action Against Hunger


Amnesty International

Anti Slavery International

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

CARE International

Chatham House

Chernobyl Children International

Danish Refugee Council



Europe Foundation

European Endowment for Democracy

Freedom House


Global Citizens

Greenpeace International

Human Rights Watch

International Partnership for Human Rights

International Rescue Committee



Médecins Sans Frontières

Norwegian Refugee Council

Open Society Foundations

Oxfam International

Positive Planet International

Poverty Child

Proactiva Open Arms

Reporters Without Borders

Save The Planet

Solidarités International

SOS Children’s Villages

Transparency International


War Child Holland

World Economic Forum


Questions to Consider

  1. What are the mission and values of your organization and how do these principles guide your organization’s work?
  2. How has your organization interacted with governments, regional bodies, or international institutions in the past? How has your organization interacted with other NGOs in the past?
  3. Has your organization been involved with policy work related to NGO conduct? If so, what did your organization advocate for and why?
  4. Institutionally, what does your organization do well? What does your organization do poorly? If your organization has been subject to controversy in the past, how do you plan on addressing that and ensuring it doesn’t happen again to your organization or other organizations?
  5. In what realms of international affairs is the role of NGOs well defined? In what realms is it imprecise or unclear?
  6. If guidelines are created regulate the work of NGOs, how will the international community ensure that organizations are following these policies? What mechanisms should be put in place to hold organizations accountable for their misconduct?

Suggestions for Further Research

All delegates should reference the websites of the organizations that they are representing to find specific information regarding their organization’s mission, values, and actions. In addition to organization specific research, delegates may find the following resources useful when considering the committee’s topic more broadly:

United Nations Charter

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Organizations with ECOSOC Consultative Status Database

Encyclopedia Britannica - Nongovernmental Organization

Global Policy Forum NGO Information

WANGO International NGO Database


Berkeley Library NGO Subject Area Guide

NGO Monitor

UN Library NGO Subject Area Guide