Panelists participating in the webinar “A National Human Rights Institution for the U.S.: Why Don't We Have One?” agreed that a presidential commission should study the need for such an institution.
“The ask is not simply that the United States create an NHRI tomorrow,” said David Kaye, clinical professor of law and director of the International Justice Clinic at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. “There are many issues around the model that would be appropriate for the United States, the scope of an NHRI, the issues that it might address, the way it would develop its membership.”
Kaye said discussions about the need for a National Human Rights Institution are not new. Although the United States is a founding member of the International Human Rights Movement and the United Nations and has been a major player in the development of human rights law for nearly 80 years, “there is no mechanism for the enforcement of international human rights in the United States,” Kaye said.
“The United States has largely opted out of the mechanisms by which human rights law is interpreted and enforced,” he said. “So, we demand others to meet their obligations under international human rights, even though we remain stubbornly outside the mainstream.”
Kaye said on a national level, the U.S. lack the development of a human rights culture and benefits that come from “self-evaluation under human rights law.”
The panelists agreed that an NHRI would be helpful to monitor and promote implementation of the U.S. international human rights obligations and could be used to promote human rights education, civic engagement and rule of law domestically. The institute could also provide support to the state and local human rights commissions that are growing around the country.
Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said, “It requires more than just aspiration or a good intention. And that was really what has been very lacking from the very beginning.”
Dakwar said we are in an era where there is substantial support for the idea. “There’s a need to take concrete actions and measures domestically.”
Martha Davis, University Distinguished Professor of Law and co-director of the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy at Northeastern University School of Law, said she sees the American Bar Association playing a special role in the evaluation of the creation of an institute as it relates to the types of legal frameworks and structures that would make for an “effective” NHRI in the United States.
“There are some existing models within government already that can be used as inspiration,” Davis said.
Davis said a study commission could draw up ideas for developing a framework for a NHRI from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission or from the nation’s systems of inspectors general.
“These are officials who monitor fraud and abuse by federal government agencies. Monitoring human rights implementation would be a key component of or could be a key component of an NHRI,” Davis added.