National Human Rights Institutions and the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Body System: A Rebuttal to the Skeptics

  • Domenico ZipoliEmail author


The United Nations human rights treaty body system is comprised of nine main Conventions establishing ten treaty bodies (TB). National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) from all regions are increasingly engaging with the TB system and building their capacities to ensure their most effective participation and contributions to the system. All TBs open their work to NHRIs, though to varying degrees and with different statuses. Rules, working methods and practices relating to NHRI engagement, as well as experiences by both TBs and NHRIs, have developed across the system. At the same time, a critical analysis of the TB system essentially focuses on the persistent disjuncture between existing international human rights standards and their domestic application, often referred to as the human rights “compliance gap”. Some within academic circles have subjected the TBs to what may be generally referred to as the “ineffectiveness critique,” branding the system as relatively weak, top-down and a contextualized. Among others, the following two elements are seen as the system’s inherent weaknesses: the apparent ambiguity in standards and the lack of a strong or judicial-type enforcement mechanism. Both elements are set within an overarching legitimacy concern related to a transnational governance system which is based on the existence of collective problems shared by States and the different political systems and communities. By situating the Conventions within the most recent scholarship on human rights treaty compliance, the chapter highlights the crucial impact that NHRIs have in bringing about domestic human rights policy change following treaty ratification and the central role they need to play throughout the TB processes if they are to do so. There has increasingly been considerable discussion concerning the role of NHRIs within the TB system, both within the TBs and among TBs and NHRIs, including the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI). It is our intention to make use of the resulting experiences and perspectives about TB–NHRI engagement to further the discussion about the necessity of analysing the TB system in a critical manner and to better appreciate the necessity of an iterative and mutually constructive relationship between global human rights norms and their domestic application.


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Copyright information

© Asia Centre 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of LawUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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