- Regional Protection of Human Rights
Regional Protection of Human Rights is the latest book by the prolific Professor Dinah Shelton, whose body of work humbles most international law scholars and amounts to a collective outpouring that puts her into the realm of those who lay claim to the title of "highly qualified publicist." Shelton's contributions to several fields of international law—particularly human rights and environmental law—are venerable. Her work on regional human rights is also path-breaking; this work follows on her pioneering books on the Inter-American human rights system, [End Page 227] in several editions between 19821 and 1995,2 both with Thomas Buergenthal, another giant in the field of international law. Prof. Shelton aptly notes that this is the first book devoted to a comparison of the three regional systems for human rights protection: the European, the Inter-American, and the African.3
In her Forward, Shelton states that her text is "intended for advanced courses in international human rights law as well as for practitioners working in the regional and global human rights systems."4 She also suggests that the book can "prove useful in courses on international law, international relations, regional studies and political science. It may also serve as a resource for lawyers and nongovernmental organizations litigating cases in the analyzed regions and for all those concerned with the protection of human rights."5 This review is offered largely from my perspective as someone who practices regularly in the Inter-American system for human rights protection,6 and who has appeared in the other regional systems as a litigant, often together with students and other faculty from the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University's Washington College of Law.7 As such, my perspective tends to the practical rather than the theoretical, to writing that helps the activist rather than the scholar. Because my sense is that this book was written to give emphasis to the more theoretical and structural issues facing human rights at the regional level, I was, I must confess, disappointed.
Because the work in each of the three regional human rights systems has developed very rapidly over the past decade or so, Shelton's task is a daunting one. The history and work of each of the three systems has produced book-length scholarly analysis of structures, practice and jurisprudence in English. Works in languages other than English also add to the growing volume of scholarship on the three systems individually. The European system, being the oldest and most developed, has produced something of a cottage industry of books, practical and theoretical, some focused on the European Court of Human Rights itself, and some focused on the rich and complex interaction of that court's decisions with domestic law in the countries of the various states parties of the Council of Europe. The court's development and wide acceptance within Western European countries as an accepted and legitimate body renders the scope and authority of [End Page 228] the other two systems weak sisters, at best. The Inter-American system is growing, in fits and starts, from adolescence to maturity, but faces cyclical (and cynical) threats to its independence and financing by Organization of American States (OAS) member states unhappy with the vigilance of both the Commission and Court.8 Moreover, the marked differences between the perspectives of the global north and south on international human rights are nowhere more apparent than in the Inter-American system, which has struggled, since its inception, with the fundamental dissonance inherent in the stubborn unwillingness of the United States and Canada to fully enlist.9 In Africa, advance of the regional system has been slow and far from systematic, the system having only recently created a human rights court with at least some teeth to its enforcement powers.10
Professor Shelton adds to the scope of her already ambitious project by not only offering institutional and doctrinal comparisons, but by examining the ways in which international norms from the three regional systems are applied domestically. She...