Authors: Sonia Cardenas
November 9, 2004
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
National human rights institutions (NHRIs) are government agencies that have proliferated around the world in the last decade. Why do governments create these institutions to promote and protect international norms that they may routinely violate? Why are national human rights institutions similar even across different political and social contexts? What exactly is the impact of these new institutions? The paper opens with an overview of NHRIs, including a discussion of their significance and global proliferation. In the second half of the paper, the author examines puzzles relating to the creation and impact of NHRIs in the Asia-Pacific region, focusing on the cases of the Philippines, India, and Indonesia. In particular, she assesses the complex impact of India's National Human Rights Commission in four areas: agenda-setting, rule creation, accountability, and socialization. She argues that NHRIs are being created largely to satisfy international audiences; they are the result of state adaptation. These international origins, however, have the following paradoxical effect: most NHRIs remain too weak to protect society from human rights violations at the same time that they create an unprecedented demand for such protection. She concludes by discussing the implications of this phenomenon for broader human rights reform.