We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Chains of Justice

The Global Rise of State Institutions for Human Rights

By Sonia Cardenas

Publication Year: 2014

National human rights institutions—state agencies charged with protecting and promoting human rights domestically—have proliferated dramatically since the 1990s; today more than a hundred countries have NHRIs, with dozens more seeking to join the global trend. These institutions are found in states of all sizes—from the Maldives and Barbados to South Africa, Mexico, and India; they exist in conflict zones and comparatively stable democracies alike. In Chains of Justice, Sonia Cardenas offers a sweeping historical and global account of the emergence of NHRIs, linking their growing prominence to the contradictions and possibilities of the modern state.

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.

The most comprehensive account of the NHRI phenomenon to date, Chains of Justice analyzes many institutions never studied before and draws from new data released from the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council. With its global scope and fresh insights into the origins and influence of NHRIs, Chains of Justice promises to become a standard reference that will appeal to scholars immersed in the workings of these understudied institutions as well as nonspecialists curious about the role of the state in human rights.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (356.4 KB)
pp. i-viii


pdf iconDownload PDF (136.0 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more

Chapter 1. The Self-Restraining State?

pdf iconDownload PDF (409.4 KB)
pp. 1-15

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...

read more

Chapter 2. Historical Linkages

pdf iconDownload PDF (370.2 KB)
pp. 16-32

Just as human rights is a modern and contested discourse, which cannot be read retroactively into every past struggle, not all government bodies that address human rights issues are NHRIs.1 National human rights institutions are a formal designation, a term of art, referring to a specific type of state...

read more

Chapter 3. Tracking Global Diffusion

pdf iconDownload PDF (470.1 KB)
pp. 33-54

Sometimes ideas spread rapidly, as if out of nowhere, adopted by very diverse groups and across disparate contexts. Diffusion occurs when these ideas are institutionalized across a wide range of countries, despite obvious national differences and local resistance.1 In this manner, democracy, liberalism, markets...

read more

Chapter 4. The Logic of Strategic Emulation

pdf iconDownload PDF (513.4 KB)
pp. 55-73

When institutions diff use widely, resistance can be difficult to decipher. Like Havel’s green grocer, states can face system- wide pressures to embrace popular international symbols and practices. Adopting popular policies does not, of course, mean that state commitments are superficial or that...

read more

Chapter 5. Trendsetters and Early Adopters, pre-1990

pdf iconDownload PDF (443.7 KB)
pp. 74-105

The story of how NHRIs have diff used around the world is one of multiple contingencies, of diverse but partially converging pathways. It is a story about the power of institutional models to spread, especially when they are promoted actively and adopted by others similarly situated. In this sense, no...

read more

Chapter 6. Democratization Scripts and Bandwagoning in Africa

pdf iconDownload PDF (523.6 KB)
pp. 106-152

Dozens of countries joined the NHRI bandwagon after 1990, showcasing the role of international diffusion. Especially at the regional level, neighboring countries emulated each other, while international organizations and regional networks actively fostered the creation of these institutions. If earlier decades...

read more

Chapter 7. Transitional Myths and Everyday Politics in the Americas

pdf iconDownload PDF (479.6 KB)
pp. 253-191

If Africa has more NHRIs than any region, Latin America and the Caribbean is the region of the world with the highest relative concentration of NHRIs. It is also the place with the greatest number of fully accredited NHRIs. These trends partly reflected a democratization wave that swept the region in the decade...

read more

Chapter 8. Appeasement via Localization in the Asia Pacific

pdf iconDownload PDF (622.3 KB)
pp. 192-255

Of all the regions in the world, the Asia Pacific has had the lowest concentration of NHRIs since the 1990s. Following the lead of New Zealand, Australia, and the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s, nine countries in the Asia Pacific created an NHRI in the 1990s: India, Indonesia, and Palestine in...

read more

Chapter 9. Membership Rites and Statehood in the New Europe

pdf iconDownload PDF (551.4 KB)
pp. 256-309

If political transitions and new constitutions serve as key regulatory moments, pushing states to lock in commitments, then no wonder Europe joined the global bandwagon of NHRI diffusion after 1990. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, newly independent states in Eastern Europe moved to create NHRIs...

read more

Chapter 10. How Accountability Institutions Matter

pdf iconDownload PDF (657.9 KB)
pp. 310-349

Institutional assessment is always rife with dilemmas. How does one capture the full array of what an institution does? How does one accommodate relative successes and failures alongside a coherent narrative of the institution’s overall effects? That institutional outcomes can be conceptualized (and measured) in...

read more

Chapter 11. Adaptive States: Making and Breaking International Law

pdf iconDownload PDF (289.0 KB)
pp. 350-360

Karl Polanyi asserted in The Great Transformation that “[n]o mere declaration of rights can suffice: institutions are required to make the rights effective.” 1 Polanyi was highlighting the necessity of public institutions, their role in translating rights into practice. Yet Polanyi also saw institutions as...


pdf iconDownload PDF (757.5 KB)
pp. 361-442


pdf iconDownload PDF (370.4 KB)
pp. 443-478

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (187.5 KB)
pp. 479-482

It was summer 1996 when I felt as if I had discovered national human rights institutions. I was in Mexico City, doing preparatory work for dissertation chapters on Latin America when I heard a radio announcement that caught my attention. It was an advertisement for “human rights,” informing people they had rights by...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208931
E-ISBN-10: 0812208935
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245394

Page Count: 480
Illustrations: 2 illus.
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights