National Human Rights Institutions in Latin America: Politics and Institutionalization
in: Ryan Goodman and Thomas Pegram (eds.), Human Rights, State Compliance, and Social Change: Assessing National Human Rights Institutions (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
25 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2014
Date Written: May 5, 2011
Formal human rights institutions can provide powerful venues for affecting the outcome of political processes and influencing their activity is of increasing importance to politicians and human rights activists alike. However, the actual performance of new human rights institutions in holding state actors to account, especially in new democracies, has often disappointed scholars and civil society observers. The stakes are high, above all for those who have suffered rights violations at the hands of government and security forces, yet find they have little recourse to justice. Contrary to much of the conventional wisdom, the chapter finds that instances of NHRI success and failure are attributable not so much to formal rules but rather to those informal institutions and networks that overlay, supplement and sometimes supersede their formal counterparts. Local human rights frameworks may rest upon formal institutions, but a growing body of scholarship shows that it is the less visible world of informal institutions that is often decisive in determining the effects of these formal institutions upon human rights politics and outcomes. The chapter draws on political accountability scholarship to demonstrate how formal rules must contend with variable relations and modes of access across accountability domains. In so doing, the it also places a spotlight on individual agents located within formal structures. It empirically investigates how effective organizational leadership may harness informal institutions – such as clientelism, decision-making norms and interpersonal networks – to advance or oppose a human rights agenda. By mapping similarities and differences in the trajectory of NHRIs, detecting causal patterns and sequences important to gauging current – as well as, potentially, future – performance and effects of NHRIs.
Keywords: Human rights, ombudsmen, Latin America, accountability, democratization
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