Monday, April 28, 2014
Despite considerable advocacy led by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Columbia Human Rights Institute, the United States as yet has no national human rights institution tasked with overseeing U.S. compliance with international human rights obligations. The LCCR and HRI produced a report on this issue in 2010. More information on national human rights institutions is available from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights here. Now, a just-published book deepens the analysis of the potential for NHRIs on the ground. Chains of Justice, by Sonia Cardenas, published by University of Pennsylvania Press, examines the international proliferation of NHRIs and evaluates their impact through a series of case studies. According to the blurb provided by the publisher,
As human rights norms gained visibility at the end of the twentieth century, states began creating NHRIs based on the idea that if international human rights standards were ever to take root, they had to be firmly implanted within countries—impacting domestic laws and administrative practices and even systems of education. However, this very position within a complex state makes it particularly challenging to assess the design and influence of NHRIs: some observers are inclined to associate NHRIs with ideals of restraint and accountability, whereas others are suspicious of these institutions as "pretenders" in democratic disguise. In her theoretically and politically grounded examination, Cardenas tackles the role of NHRIs, asking how we can understand the global diffusion of these institutions, including why individual states decide to create an NHRI at a particular time while others resist the trend. She explores the influence of these institutions in states seeking mostly to appease international audiences as well as their value in places where respect for human rights is already strong.
This work may provide useful grounding as both domestic advocates and the UN continue to press the U.S. to establish such a domestic body.