Sonia Cardenas offers the most comprehensive account to date of the emergence of national human rights institutions, exploring why states create these institutions and examining their impact on contemporary human rights struggles.
2014 | 496 pages | Cloth $79.95
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. The Self-Restraining State?
Chapter 2. Historical Linkages
Chapter 3. Tracking Global Diffusion
Chapter 4. The Logic of Strategic Emulation
Chapter 5. Trendsetters and Early Adopters, pre-1990
Chapter 6. Democratization Scripts and Bandwagoning in Africa
Chapter 7. Transitional Myths and Everyday Politics in the Americas
Chapter 8. Appeasement via Localization in the Asia Pacific
Chapter 9. Membership Rites and Statehood in the New Europe
Chapter 10. How Accountability Institutions Matter
Chapter 11. Adaptive States: Making and Breaking International Law
The Self-Restraining State?
High up the embankment of Agra Fort, next to a sweeping view of the Taj Mahal, is a nondescript archway with a marble plaque. The tablet marks the spot of a legendary chain from the seventeenth century. The unusual chain was according to some accounts made of gold, was eighty feet long, and had sixty bells attached to it, linking Agra Fort to a post by the nearby riverbank. It was known simply as the "chain of justice," and forging it was one of Nuruddin Jahangir's first acts as leader of the Mughal Empire. The plan was for ordinary people to go to the palace and rattle the chain to get the emperor's attention. As Jahangir described it in his memoir, "If those engaged in the administration of justice should delay or practice hypocrisy . . . the oppressed might come to this chain and shake it so that its noise might attract attention." While little is known about whether the chain was used or why Jahangir had it built, most intriguing is the chain's symbolism. It represented a potent idea: individuals suffering injustice at the hands of the empire had a right to seek redress directly from the emperor. Regardless of Jahangir's commitment to justice, the chain may also have helped him extend his rule. From the emperor's vantage point, the chain could rein in dissenting administrators, persuading them to act justly or suffer the consequences. Perhaps most important, the chain might rechannel popular discontent against the empire, making it more likely that the aggrieved would seek justice over rebellion.
Jahangir's chain of justice stands as a powerful if unexpected metaphor for contemporary human rights practice. Though four centuries have passed, modern states and their leaders still act remarkably similarly to the logic that propelled Jahangir. States today routinely undermine human rights at the same time that they create mechanisms to advance those rights. In a global context of widespread and ongoing abuse, recognizing the potentially complex motives underlying the creation of government institutions devoted to human rights becomes crucial. When today's states support human rights mechanisms, they rarely do so without some measure of self-interest, even if the mechanisms themselves prove influential. Like Jahangir's chain of justice, the human rights institutions that states create can have multiple and seemingly contradictory meanings: they can be deliberate attempts to retain and extend state control—not abdicate it—even as they shift the social, political, and legal landscape in unexpectedly significant ways.
Among human rights mechanisms, few are as potentially important but have generated as little attention as national human rights institutions (NHRIs). NHRIs are administrative bodies responsible for promoting and protecting human rights domestically. They have proliferated dramatically since the 1990s; and today over one hundred countries have NHRIs, with dozens of others actively seeking to join the global trend. These institutions come under various names (including human rights commissions, ombudsman offices, and public defenders), and they are found in states of all sizes, from the Maldives and Barbados to South Africa, Mexico, and India. They exist in Western countries like France, Germany, and Canada, just as they are emerging in the conflict zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Across borders, NHRIs also have become exceedingly active, leading to the formation of international and regional networks of NHRIs; a full-blown system of formal accreditation; legal standing in some international organizations; and an accompanying cottage industry of meetings, consultancies, training programs, and websites. For a field dominated by actors from "above" and "below" the state, the entry of the state itself into the business of human rights represents a formidable development in world affairs.
States began creating NHRIs late in the twentieth century, as human rights norms and discourse rose visibly to prominence. The idea was that if international human rights standards were ever to take root, they had to be firmly implanted within countries—within domestic laws and administrative practices and even systems of education. International laws and institutions would not suffice, just as social movements and committed activists would be unable on their own to carry the burden of human rights reform. NHRIs were instead viewed as uniquely positioned to implement human rights effectively. They were located within the state but independent of it, so they could potentially imbue the state with both legitimacy and credibility. Situated between the state and society, they might also serve as able interlocutor; and ensconced between the state and international system, global coordination could be maximized. Added to this distinctiveness is a vast array of possible NHRI functions: advising governments, processing complaints, monitoring violations, conducting inquiries, preparing reports, sometimes investigating abuses and interacting with courts, training government officials, devising media campaigns, diffusing human rights materials nationwide, and shaping school curricula. Given this potentially broad, even exhaustive, array of activity, it is easy to see how expectations can quickly outpace performance. The result has been a world of markedly similar institutions with important local differences inflected into them, a juxtaposition that has made understanding NHRIs as fascinating as it is challenging.
In keeping apace with these developments, the research on NHRIs has quickly grown in volume and scope, as scholars and practitioners from around the world have looked to document the expansion and significance of these institutions. This book joins this endeavor, contributing to existing work in several distinct ways. First, I offer a theoretically and politically grounded account of NHRIs, complementing most of the work in this area, which is richly descriptive and legalistic. Second, my analysis is historical and global in scale, rather than focused on a single NHRI or particular region, though I draw heavily on my own and others' empirical case studies. My objective is to provide a broad overview of NHRIs, appealing to both specialists immersed in the workings of these institutions and nonspecialists curious about the role of the state and human rights. Third, I view NHRIs through an institutionalist lens, focusing on related issues of institutional creation, design, and influence and on the path dependencies partially connecting these. In a sense, the story I tell of NHRIs is also a broader story of how the state as complex actor negotiates human rights claims among competing demands and moves to occupy rights discourse and space: in this account, for example, NHRIs are strategically deployed by state and nonstate actors as a new site of struggle, at the same time that NHRIs themselves reconstitute the state and society. Fourth, my analysis is an explicit attempt to speak to an audience of academics and practitioners, an effort to bridge the divides between analytically informed research, the world of human rights practice, and the actuality of people's lives. This leads me to approach the research in somewhat pragmatic and eclectic ways, with room for normative conclusions. Finally, to offer a broad-gauged and comprehensive overview of NHRIs, I examine questions of both institutional creation and influence: Why do states create NHRIs, and what is the impact of these institutions? Embedded within these central questions are related issues of global diffusion, institutional design, and perverse outcomes, also featured as key themes throughout the book.
For good or ill, mundanely or radically, NHRIs are now part of contemporary human rights struggles—a reality that human rights histories, theories, and strategies must be able to accommodate, in its full ambiguity and messiness. This chapter sets the stage for such an effort, introducing the basics of what NHRIs are and what they do. By way of framing, I present three key puzzles that structure the overall analysis, all linked broadly to the notion of a self-restraining state. A preliminary overview of the key arguments and animating themes, detailed over the course of the first few chapters, serves to orient and anchor subsequent discussions. Rather than demonizing the state or assuming the benevolence of human rights institutions, I intentionally privilege a nuanced view of the state and its complex reach. From this critically open premise, the book surveys the global rise of NHRIs and the place of these institutions in the state-human rights nexus.
Puzzles and Dilemmas
The emergence of NHRIs has been both highly celebrated and puzzling. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan observed in a well-known 2002 report on UN reform that "building strong human rights institutions at the country level is what in the long run will ensure that human rights are protected and advanced in a sustained manner." The Canadian government described NHRIs with similar conviction in the 1990s, as "the practical link between international standards and their concrete application, the bridge between the ideal and its implementation." More recently, in a spring 2010 meeting in the Persian Gulf region, UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay remarked enthusiastically that NHRIs "can have an immeasurably positive impact on the entire fabric of nations." Even in the United States, which has resisted joining the NHRI bandwagon, a quiet movement has been afoot for the establishment of a national human rights commission; and in China, which still lacks an NHRI, the possibility has long been on the government's agenda and captured the attention of nonstate groups. Every year, in region-wide conferences, dozens of NHRIs across Africa, the Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Americas reaffirm the idea that these institutions can advance the causes of human rights, peace and security, transitional justice, democracy, and good governance. Despite this extraordinary range of support, three pivotal issues still are far from clear; these puzzles revolve around basic questions of institutional creation, design, and influence. Each puzzle in turn raises a set of secondary questions, sketched below to illustrate the scope of the debates surrounding NHRIs and the state of the field.
First, it is not at all self-evident why so many states around the world have bothered to create NHRIs. States already compliant with international human rights norms would have little incentive to do so, while it remains unclear why states with relatively poor human rights records would risk creating potentially destabilizing institutions. And yet NHRIs have proliferated around the world, across different regions, types of regimes, and development categories. How, if at all, can we account for the global diffusion of NHRIs? And why do individual states decide to create an NHRI at a particular time, while others have appeared to resist the trend? More broadly, what factors lead state actors to create an agency to monitor and regulate state activities? Do "regions" or questions of timing play an important part in these developments? These are some of the issues underlying the puzzle of institutional creation.
Second, what accounts for the forms and functions of an NHRI, or the details of institutional design? On the one hand, these institutions look remarkably similar across very different kinds of states. On the other hand, NHRIs do vary considerably in their design, and these national differences are not altogether obvious. Why does a state adopt a particular type of NHRI? Why are some institutions given more "teeth" than others, while some are made weak even in the face of substantial criticism? For example, some of the weakest NHRIs are found in the most long-standing democracies, while even egregious violators can design fairly strong institutions. Do institutions designed by a heavy international hand, including those originating in peace agreements, tend to follow an external template, or do local forces still leave their mark? Why are institutional reforms sometimes undertaken, and what role does international accreditation play? More fundamentally, do an NHRI's origins affect its design?
Third, once created, the actual influence of these institutions remains puzzling. For states seeking mostly to appease international audiences, can these institutions have an independent impact? Where respect for human rights is already strong, is there added value from having these institutions? Given their broad functions, moreover, how can we best conceptualize an NHRI's influence? How far within the state and society should we look for signs of an NHRI's influence? And what accounts for an NHRI's actual influence, or for why these institutions vary so much in their effects? How, for instance, should we address the legacies of institutional creation and design? And what other factors intervene to affect an NHRI's effectiveness? Does personality play an unusual role? In accommodating for the possibility of complex effects, do NHRIs have unintended and even perverse consequences? Is it at all possible to make general claims about an NHRI's impact, or is the puzzle of influence best addressed on a case-by-case basis?
This ensemble of questions strikes at the notion of a "self-restraining" state. Scholars of democratization have referred to a self-restraining state as one where "horizontal accountability" exists, or where a state agency is empowered to check the power of parallel state actors, that is, self-regulation by the state. Clearly, an NHRI falls nominally under these rubrics of oversight, accountability, and self-restraint (alongside electoral commissions, constitutional courts, anticorruption bodies, and central banks, which also have proliferated worldwide). Integral to these ideas is the view that the state is not simply a coherent whole, to be reified and treated as a unitary actor. On the contrary, the state is a complex set of actors that must be disaggregated into its various parts if it is to be understood adequately. This notion of the disaggregated state provides an essential foundation upon which to begin thinking about NHRIs and the dilemmas they pose as state institutions.
If anything, an NHRI's location within a complex state makes it particularly difficult to assess the institution's creation, design, and influence. Some observers will be inclined to assume a close connection between NHRIs and notions of self-restraint and accountability, whereas others will be suspicious of these institutions as "pretenders" and "placebos" in democratic disguise. In practice, these institutions have their supporters and detractors (within the state, in civil society, and internationally) who simultaneously react to an NHRI and inject their own political interests and agendas into the discussion. Evidence of real successes and failures across the globe, and even within the same institution over time, only complicates the picture. Yet the puzzles identified above require that we set aside our expectations of NHRIs—both effusive enthusiasm and cynical skepticism—and treat the state's self-restraint as an empirical question, open to critical investigation. They also require that we look below the surface, within the narrow interstices of state and society, to locate the multiple and contradictory meanings of an NHRI. NHRIs present us with a host of puzzling questions, ultimately related to the nature of the modern state and its peculiar interface with the discourse and practice of human rights.
A New Institutional Landscape
The global rise of NHRIs dates to the end of the twentieth century, although the idea emerged in the immediate aftermath of World War II, was developed more fully in the 1960s, and gradually evolved into a relatively coherent concept as of the early 1990s. In 1993, the "Paris Principles," which to this day remain the standard minimal guidelines for creating and strengthening NHRIs, were articulated; discussed at length in Chapter 3, the Paris Principles emphasize notions of institutional independence, representativeness, and pluralism. In this post-Cold War context, widespread diffusion of the institution quickly followed in the 1990s and beyond. The new millennium ushered in more institutions, as well as a system of international accreditation, overseen by sixteen leading NHRIs on the International Coordinating Committee, and the emergence of numerous regional and subregional networks of NHRIs. By mid-2012, 115 states had created an NHRI, with over 60 more agreeing to establish the institution or taking concrete steps to this effect; only 15 states resisted the global trend. Whether NHRIs are a passing historical fad, as skeptics might warn, remains to be seen; but their incorporation into contemporary human rights discourse and struggles, itself building on long-standing historical antecedents, cannot be ignored. Before moving to more in-depth examination of these issues, taken up in later chapters, it is worth surveying the basics contours of NHRIs: their definition, types, and functions.
What Is an NHRI?
A "national human rights institution" is a term of art. It refers to a very specific entity, not just any human rights institution at the national level. Despite the extensive attention given to NHRIs, a clear definition of the institution has proved elusive. The diversity of NHRI types, mandates, functions, and independence has made it difficult to settle on a core meaning. Yet absent a standard definition, it is altogether unclear what NHRIs have in common with one another and what exactly differentiates them from other institutions. In addressing these basic gaps, I adopt the following working definition: an NHRI is an administrative body responsible for protecting and promoting human rights domestically.
This definition serves, first, to highlight an NHRI's unique structural position within the state while differentiating it from other bodies. Being an administrative entity implies that this is a permanent agency created by the government. An NHRI, even one taking the form of a "human rights commission," should not be confused with a temporary or ad hoc body like a truth commission. Nor is an NHRI a nongovernmental organization (NGO); it is an official body, though admittedly some NGOs go by the name of "human rights commission" (e.g., in Hong Kong, Pakistan, and Kenya). The administrative nature of an NHRI in turn distances it from judicial and lawmaking capacities. While some NHRIs have quasi-judicial functions, these are not the institution's central tasks.
The reference to both human rights protection and promotion addresses an NHRI's central purpose—the substance of its oversight. This dual mandate is central to and regularly highlighted in international standards. In practice, of course, states interpret protection and promotion very differently; but at the level of conceptualization, these twin goals are the most commonly stated purposes of NHRIs. While there has been an attempt to define NHRIs in terms of what they actually do, institutional performance is an empirical, not definitional, matter.
The broad definition provided here—an administrative body responsible for protecting and promoting human rights domestically—is also consistent with standard usage of the term by practitioners. In this regard, an institution can be an NHRI even if it is not accredited. It can share core institutional attributes, be labeled an NHRI, and participate in NHRI forums. While international accreditation standards and procedures have changed over time, as discussed in Chapter 3, accreditation still serves as a marker of NHRI compliance. Of the over one hundred NHRIs I identify here, sixty-nine are fully accredited (A-status bodies). The remaining institutions are partially accredited B-status NHRIs, with observer status (twenty-four NHRIs); C-status bodies deemed non-compliant with the Paris Principles (ten NHRIs); or institutions that have not yet applied for accreditation. Recognition by social peers is always crucial, whether the institution proves more or less effective.
Definitions do not have to be definitive, just reasonable starting points for analysis and debate. The definition I adopt here can accommodate the fact that an NHRI can take various forms. Moreover, given the institution's popularity, states and others seek to appropriate the term and infuse it with various meanings, either to pass off an existing body for an NHRI or to push a functioning NHRI to higher levels of effectiveness. In this sense, the concept of an NHRI must be viewed as socially constructed, open to contestation, necessarily in flux. It should be possible to recognize these flexible parameters while still defining an NHRI clearly and concisely.
NHRIs can indeed take numerous forms, presenting states with a range of design options. States can choose among different types of NHRIs, just as NHRIs can vary in terms of their legal bases, jurisdiction and mandate, composition, representation, and independence. This openness in design has always been integral to the notion of NHRIs, which in principle can be tailored to meet local needs and circumstances while satisfying the baseline international requirements stipulated in the Paris Principles.
In terms of the basic building blocks, those working in the field widely recognize two primary types of NHRIs: national commissions and national ombudsmen. There are also hybrid institutions that combine features of both the commission and ombudsman models, just as there are specialized NHRIs focusing on vulnerable populations (e.g., children and indigenous peoples). To complicate matters, NHRIs often operate in a national environment with overlapping institutions, leading to redundancies and other challenges discussed later.
A few key differences exist between the ombudsman and commission models of NHRI. Just under 50 percent of NHRIs are human rights commissions, and their focus is primarily on human rights violations and discrimination, regardless of whether abuses are committed by state or nonstate agents. National ombudsmen in turn emphasize questions of "fairness and legality in public administration"; and they investigate allegations of "maladministration" by public officials. Unlike their classic version, with origins in the nineteenth century, ombudsman agencies that are NHRIs should have an explicit human rights mandate. These ombudsmen are also typically vested in a single individual, that is, monocratic institutions, in contrast to the "commissions" model. Ombudsman NHRIs are especially popular among Caribbean countries, originally influenced by Commonwealth ideas.
Hybrid institutions, a mixture of national ombudsmen and human rights commissions, reflect national ombudsmen that have had human rights responsibilities grafted onto their mandates. Examples of these hybrid institutions (sometimes called "quasi human rights commissions" or "human rights ombudsman") include Ghana's Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the Palestinian Citizens' Rights Commission, and Russia's Plenipotentiary for Human Rights. Hybrid human rights institutions have been especially prevalent in Latin America and Iberia, where they often carry the name of Defensores del Pueblo, or Defenders of the People, and throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
In designing the more specific features of an NHRI, independence is typically considered a top institutional priority. In practice, an NHRI can have its legal bases in various sources, including executive decree or even a peace agreement (e.g., Bosnia, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan), but the Paris Principles strongly recommend embedding NHRIs in a national constitution or legislative statute, making them less likely to be overturned. Other issues, such as composition, the appointment of members, and funding sources, can also vary substantially and affect an NHRI's independence.
Another essential institutional axis is the scope of an NHRI's mandate or jurisdiction. Some NHRIs focus narrowly on issues of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination; examples of these institutions are found mostly in Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. While a few institutions, such as the NHRI of the Philippines, address all internationally recognized human rights norms, others limit the scope of their activities in very specific ways (e.g., both the Canadian and Mexican national human rights commissions have excluded land disputes from their jurisdictions, while this issue features prominently in cases handled by Indonesia's NHRI; likewise, national security issues are expressly off-limits for India's NHRI). More specifically, NHRIs have traditionally focused on civil and political rights, but increasingly—spurred by a 1998 UN document outlining the evolving role of NHRIs— these institutions have also turned to economic, social, and cultural rights, tapping into broader global discourses.
What NHRIs Do
In implementing human rights domestically, NHRIs can undertake a vast range of activities. These functions can generally be classified in terms of protecting or promoting human rights, or what I refer to respectively as the "regulative" and "constitutive" roles of an NHRI. Regulative functions focus on eliciting state compliance with international norms and rules. Constitutive functions are intended to transform the identity of state or societal actors. Both sets of activities can overlap in practice, and not all NHRIs will undertake all functions; but the distinction still can be useful in organizing a large number of tasks. Even a partial list of NHRI functions, provided in Table 1, offers a glimpse into what these institutions do and suggests how they might have potentially far-reaching effects.
On the regulative side, NHRIs tend to target state compliance with human rights standards, interact with the judiciary, or undertake independent activities. As Table 1 shows, in eliciting government compliance, NHRIs can offer general advice on human rights issues, encourage treaty ratification, review proposed legislation, and assist governments in preparing state reports for treaty bodies. NHRIs can also work with governments in devising national human rights action plans.
A related and often vital task of NHRIs is to complement the role of the courts in protecting human rights norms. Accordingly, NHRIs can assist human rights victims in seeking legal redress, refer human rights cases to national tribunals, and contribute to the overall development of human rights jurisprudence. In some cases, NHRIs may receive evidence in affidavits and participate in legal proceedings, including litigation.
In addition to their relations with the government and the judiciary, NHRIs themselves can play an independent role in regulating compliance. Most national institutions review state practices and compile this information regularly in annual and other reports. Many NHRIs investigate complaints or allegations of human rights abuse. In the course of investigation, some NHRIs are empowered to inspect facilities, compel governments to turn over documents or information, and examine witnesses. When broader types of abuse, such as those involving economic and social rights, are at stake, NHRIs sometimes may initiate a general public inquiry in lieu of a specific investigation. Following an investigation, moreover, some NHRIs can mediate between parties in a human rights conflict or submit the dispute to arbitration. A few national institutions can even issue binding resolutions (e.g., Uganda's commission) and award victims compensation (in the case of Australia).
On the constitutive side, NHRIs perform two fundamental sets of activities. The first set involves socialization, namely attempts to diffuse international human rights norms domestically by means of the media, grassroots campaigning, professional training, and educational reform. Socialization also consists of establishing and strengthening ties with domestic NGOs, an increasingly important but often challenging task for many NHRIs. A second set of constitutive activities moves beyond socialization to address issues of international cooperation. The objective in this area is to forge common interests with and links to other NHRIs around the world and to cooperate with treaty bodies. Both sets of constitutive functions are premised on the assumption that engendering a human rights culture is a prerequisite for sustainable human rights reform.
Guideposts, Methods, and Metaphors
Why NHRIs are created, how they operate, and what they signify on the world stage are all intricately connected. The remainder of this book is a comprehensive and systematic attempt to grapple with these complexities. I canvass a large volume of material about NHRIs, draw on cross-disciplinary tools, and rearrange existing data to reach novel conclusions. My goal is to offer new insights into the origins and influence of NHRIs and to provoke critical reflections about these still understudied institutions, while contributing to broader debates about human rights, global diffusion, and state institutions.
The logic of institutions indeed guides my analysis, anchoring it in a particular vision of political life. My argument, detailed in Chapter 4, focuses on strategic emulation, taking into account both the strategic and social contexts in which actors operate. I proceed from the assumption that NHRIs are self-restraining, accountability mechanisms, and that creating such institutions is especially desirable under conditions of norm ambiguity, when an actor's commitments and authority are open to interpretation. Such conditions present leaders with "problems," or strategic incentives to adopt a self-restraining mechanism; and they open space for norm-diffusing agents to promote new ideas (or "solutions"). In the case of NHRIs, I focus on three situations of norm ambiguity that may stimulate institutional adoption: regulatory moments, including new constitutions or political transitions, when state leaders look to lock in commitments; external obligations, such as those resulting from treaty accession, which create incentives to localize authority; and organized, systemic patterns of abuse, which can lead to transnational pressures and efforts to appease. While the literature on diffusion in international relations has focused on the role of distinct pathways (e.g., coercion or emulation), I attempt to make sense of global diffusion by bridging the strategic-social divide and incorporating more fully the local context. When assessing impact, an institutional lens encourages broad-gauged analysis, inviting us to look beyond the obvious, including checking for the possibility of "feedback" (when NHRIs transform the actors and contexts that shaped them) as well as unintended consequences.
In exploring the world of NHRIs, I also rely on a mix of methods. In terms of the universe of cases, I take into account both states that have an NHRI, regardless of their accreditation status, and states that have not created an NHRI. With this full range of cases in view, I am better equipped to assess and illustrate the strength of my claims. Since a firm grasp on so many cases is obviously impossible, I rely heavily on the large volume of reports and case studies proffering intimate knowledge of particular cases. I also rely on extensive primary documentation, from a range of national and international institutions, including materials from the first full round of the Universal Periodic Review, completed in 2011 and covering all the countries in the world; this is, in fact, one of the first human rights studies to make use of this new stock of data. In some instances, I deploy statistical methods to explore key propositions. At other times, I draw on diverse historical materials, from early twentieth-century newspapers to minutes of UN meetings from the 1940s and even foreign legal memoirs. In all cases, I work to triangulate sources, ensuring multiple pieces of evidence are in place before advancing my claims. Fundamental to these processes are my own assessments derived from over one hundred firsthand interviews and field research in several countries beginning in the mid-1990s, including India, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, France, and Denmark, and the UN offices in Geneva, as well as multiyear access to leading practitioners in the NHRI field.
Context and argument are presented in the next three chapters, beginning with a look at the historical backdrop in Chapter 2, especially the contradictory role of the state vis-à-vis rights issues and a set of more long-standing institutions that variously informed the idea of an NHRI. Chapter 3 turns to the question of global diffusion, offering evidence of diffusion over time and across regions. I also trace the evolution and gradual maturation of an international regime for NHRIs, one crucial aspect behind the global rise of NHRIs, which itself reflects the growth of these institutions. The argument for why NHRIs and accountability institutions are created as they are is presented in Chapter 4, developing my logic of strategic emulation. That chapter also includes the findings of a statistical probe into the argument's viability, as well as a look at how an NHRI's name can give us clues about key organizational features.
The next set of chapters turns to an empirical overview of the world's NHRIs, taking the form of concise narratives organized by time and place. Chapter 5 examines the creation of the earliest, pre-1990 NHRIs, or the trendsetters and early adopters around the world. Chapters 6 through 9 survey the diffusion of NHRIs in particular regions: Africa, the Americas, the Asia Pacific, and Europe. Each chapter addresses region-wide developments, analyzes the creation and form of NHRIs in the region, and concludes with a discussion of latecomers and holdouts. I focus on institutional creation more than anything else. Despite existing research on this question, a definitive and comprehensive account of this political history has yet to be written. In covering so much ground geographically, I am following the lead of Linda Reif's expansive book on the ombudsman and the large-scale volume edited by Kamal Hossain and colleagues. The focus of Chapter 10 shifts to the important question of impact, providing a new analytic framework and illustrating it through numerous examples of NHRIs in action around the world. The chapter also introduces a more dynamic dimension to the analysis, considering how an NHRI's performance can alter the broader context in both beneficial and perverse ways. In the concluding chapter, I review overarching and outstanding themes, including the implications for how we might understand state sovereignty in the twenty-first century and apply an ethics of justice in assessing human rights institutions.
The metaphor of the chain, evoked by Jahangir's seventeenth-century mechanism of justice, holds multiple meanings for NHRIs. Like Jahangir's chain, NHRIs can directly link state and society to one another, including by giving members of society access to the state. At the same time, NHRIs can signal a leader's attempt to control parts of the state and redirect social grievances, relying on an institutionalized mechanism that potentially channels opposition. The global rise of NHRIs, across so many countries, regions, and now formal networks, creates interconnections and linkages, parallel to other globalizing trends like the diffusion of democracy and markets. Yet chains that connect can also be shackles of oppression, depicted in archetypal images of prisoner or slave. NHRIs, too, can have perverse effects, whether acting as a cover to evade criticism of human rights abuse or in extreme cases as the mouthpiece of a repressive state. The notion of a self-restraining state thus sits uneasily between these simultaneously competing metaphors, just as NHRIs have inescapable dualities and ambiguities that must be confronted if their full significance is to be grasped. In this complex panorama, NHRIs feature as new and innovative institutions, even while they manifest the modern state's fundamental, seemingly contradictory drive to reproduce itself via coercion and consent.