Do We Need National Human Rights Institutions? The Prospects for a Regional Human Rights Mechanism in Asia

Buhm Suk Baek, Cornell Law School


The purpose of this paper is to examine the possibility of establishing a regional human rights mechanism in Asia with focus on the cooperation of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). Asia remains the only region which does not have any regional human rights mechanism comparable to the European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights; the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights; or the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the African Court of Human and People’s Rights. Since the adoption of the Bangkok Declaration in the context of the preparations for the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, there have been numerous initiatives by the U.N., the Ministers and representatives of Asian countries, and NGOs to establish regional human rights institutions and charters in the Asia-Pacific region. Overall, since the adoption of the 1993 Bangkok declaration, the subsequent fifteen years of futile efforts, both through the top-down approach of the U.N. and other international organizations and the bottom-up approach of numerous NGOs in Asia have failed to establish regional human rights mechanisms.

Why have both approaches not worked? The former has not fully cooperated with already existing national and regional human rights institutions and has mainly relied upon individual governments’ political will. The latter has worked without enough support from formal governmental institutions. Examining this problem is the starting point of this research and it determines the focus on National Human Rights Institutions.