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National human rights institutions: independent actors in global human rights governance?

To monitor and support states with human rights treaty implementation, the growth of independent regulatory bodies such as national human rights institutions (NHRIs) has been encouraged. This article discusses the degree of independence that is required for NHRIs to function successfully.

Valentina Carraro, Corina Lacatus
02 May 2023
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In an increasingly complex global human rights regime, international governmental organisations like the United Nations remain concerned with closing the human rights governance gap. In this context, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) are uniquely equipped regulatory intermediaries - they have the mandated powers to support and monitor national governments' human rights compliance, but require government cooperation to operate effectively. The authors of this article argue that institutional independence is key for regulatory intermediaries like NHRIs to conduct their work effectively.

At the same time, independence should not be solely a formal, de jure feature; it is essential for it to also manifest as de facto independence. The article thus investigates the extent to which the de jure independence of NHRIs matches their de facto independence, and explain variation. The article measures NHRIs' de jure independence by employing quantitative data on 187 NHRIs. To study their de facto independence, the authors collect survey data on the participation of Asia–Pacific NHRIs in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a peer-review mechanism monitoring states' human rights performance. The article shows that regulatory intermediaries like NHRIs can be successful even when they lack full de jure independence. De facto independence is key, and is facilitated by both NHRI- and UPR-related factors.

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