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NGO Legitimacy: Reassessing Democracy, Accountability and Transparency

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  • Non-Governmental Organizations
  • International Law
  • Political Science


Non-governmental organizations have enjoyed an unprecedented amount of influence on national as well as international fronts for at least the last decade. A recent survey reveals educated Americans and Europeans trust NGOs more than they trust governments, corporations, and the media. As their power augments, NGOs have become increasingly skeptical and critical of the power held by the United Nations and by sovereign states. NGOs accuse these world powers of engaging in rule-making processes that are lacking in transparency, democracy, and accountability, thus lacking in legitimacy. Now, even as their power grows, NGOs are falling under this same criticism. Democracy, transparency, and accountability go to the core of representation, they shed light on power structures, they can illuminate bias and self-interest, and most importantly, lack of them can destroy legitimacy. But do they fit in a NGO framework? Should NGOs be held to the same standards of democracy, transparency, and accountability as nation states? Or is there something inherently different about NGOs that would or should exempt them from the rules of the game for nation states and inter-governmental organizations? Is the lack of democratic processes, transparency and accountability undermining the power of the NGO movement, or is the lack thereof allowing for the vitality and rapid growth in the NGO movement?

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