International Human Rights Protection: Institutions and Instruments

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Mayrhofer, Monika
Chavez, Carmela
Hegde, Venkatachala G.
Killander, Magnus
Larik, Joris
Nkrumah, Bright
Salmón, Elizabeth
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The present Report on the mapping study on relevant actors in human rights protection was written as part of Work Package 4 “Protection of Human Rights: Institution and Instruments” of the FP 7 project “Fostering Human Rights Among European (External and Internal) Policies”.1 The report is aimed at mapping out relevant institutions for the protection of human rights at the national, regional and international levels, including governmental as well as non-governmental organisations. It equally aims to present the instruments used at different levels, especially global and regional treaties as well as political agreements and non-binding instruments. Therefore, the report contains an overview of key institutions, their objectives and instruments. Attention is also given to the cooperation between these organisations in order to map the network of human rights institutions with a specific focus on their interactions with the European Union (EU) in this international governance network. The central organisation in the field of human rights at the global level is the United Nations, which has gradually developed a comprehensive and extensive international human rights system. It is a multi- tiered and sophisticated system and fulfils a leadership role in the setting of new human rights standards. The regional human rights systems are diverse with regard to scope, institutional arrangements, obligations and mechanisms. In Africa, the African Union (AU) has led the way to establish a range of human rights instruments as well as institutions and mechanisms to monitor their implementation. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is remarkable as it not only codifies individual rights but also emphasises group rights as well as individual duties. The human rights system of the Americas has a long history, with the Organisation of American States (OAS) as the key organisation. The OAS has adopted various instruments and established a monitoring mechanism. It can be said that the OAS has developed Inter-American human rights and democratic standards, which contributed to the enhancement of democracy in the region. Although Asian human rights systems have developed later than their African, American or European counterparts, and the two regional organisations which have made such efforts, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), are mainly relying on soft-law instruments and the setting up of specific institutional arrangements for human rights is still inchoate. The European system is the most extensive and differentiated system with far-reaching obligations and monitoring capacities. Although the Council of Europe (CoE) is still the most important European human rights organisation the role of the European Union (EU) has gained in importance over the last decades by gradually accommodating human rights principles in primary law including the adoption of a human rights treaty (Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) as well as by incorporating human rights considerations in its European External Action Service (EEAS). There have also been some attempts to establish human rights standards in the so-called “Islamic” regions. Only the Arab Charter on Human Rights, however, has entered into force to date. Non-Governmental Organisations play a crucial role at all levels. They provide information to international and national institutions, contribute to agenda setting and policy-making in the field of human rights, observe implementation and play an important role with regard to awareness raising. The mapping exercise shows that international human rights organisations were successful in creating an international forum for discussion and debate as well as agenda setting and decision making on human rights issues and prominently involving NGOs in this process. Some organisations have also done pioneering work concerning the development of human rights standards and the interpretation and adjudication of international human rights law. With regard to the implementation of human rights law and the prosecution and follow-up of human rights violations the picture is less favourable. Only some regional organisations have made an effort in this regard.