Human Rights Promotion & Protection: Case Studies

Below are presented a few suggestions for developing case studies. Comments and suggestions are welcome. We want in particular to give concrete elements about what has been implemented so far in different contexts, including why, how, what the main outputs & outcomes have been, what are the different points of view on each particular experience, where visitors can find more resources useful for their own context, etc. By giving access to a vast array of perspectives and experiences, the portal should enable users to create the knowledge they need for their own context. As an evolving platform, we will continue to expand this database of experiences as the project progresses.

Cambodia: The ambiguities of the position of local human rights NGOs

This case study would examine the role of local or "indigenous" human rights NGOs in Cambodia. The period following the 1992 Paris peace accords, and in particular the establishment of the United Nations Transitional Administration in Cambodia (UNTAC) led to the flourishing of new Cambodian human rights NGOs, directly assisted, financed and sometimes created by outsiders. This was at the origin of clientelist relationships which complicated relations among NGOs themselves. By contrast, the history of the Association des Droits de l'Homme du Cambodge (ADHOC), a Cambodian human rights NGO that existed before UNTACs arrival, has tended to induce a different evolution for that organization.

After 15 years of activity, the overall evaluation of the local human rights NGO sector is mixed.  Despite the mushrooming of local NGOs, their long-term viability and sustainability remain uncertain. A key problem is that some human rights NGOs have a poor record of internal participatory governance, accountability, and transparency. As it is often the case, some NGOs seem to exist due to the charisma of particular human rights activists, but lack solid institutional foundations in order to sustain themselves in the long-term.  As a result, some prominent human rights NGOs began to founder and eventually closed down, such as the Cambodian Institute of Human Rights (CIHR).  In general, the overall number of human rights NGOs decreased a decade after the peace accords.  Nevertheless, there are strong human rights NGOs that continue to operate, such as the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) and the Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). But a key challenge facing all local human rights NGOs is that they are almost exclusively dependant on outside (international donor) funding.  

This situation in Cambodia is representative of the dilemma faced in most post-conflict situations. The ultimate criterion of success may well not be the emergence of human rights NGOs per se, but rather their self-sustainability.

For more information:

Doyle, Michael. Peacebuilding in Cambodia (New York: IPA Policy Briefing Series), 1996.

Doyle, Michael. "Peacebuilding in Cambodia: The Continuing Quest for Power and Legitimacy." In Cambodia and the International Community.  Edited by Frederick Z. Brown and David G. Timberman.  New York: Asia Society, 1998.

Peou, Sorpong. 'International Assistance for Institution Building in Post-Conflict Cambodia." Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, in cooperation with the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, May 2004.

Peou, Sorpong.  "Assessing Human Rights Assistance to Cambodia." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association.  Montreal, Canada, March 17, 2004. 

Pouligny, Beatrice. "UN peace operations, INGOs, NGOs, and promoting the rule of law: exploring the intersection of international and local norms in different postwar contexts." Journal of Human Rights, vol. 2, no. 3 (September 2003): 359-377.

Pouligny, Beatrice. Peace Operations Seen from Below: UN Missions and Local People.  London: Hurst /Connecticut: Kumarian Press, Inc., 2006.

LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights)

Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)

Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)

Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC)

Cambodian National Research Organization (CNRO)

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El Salvador and Guatemala: Peace agreements and national human rights institutions

In both El Salvador and Guatemala, peace agreements ending the civil wars included provisions relating to national human rights institutions.  In the case of El Salvador, the 1991 Mexico Agreements between the government and FLMN called for the "Creation of the post of a National Counsel for the Defence of Human Rights, whose primary function shall be to promote and ensure respect for human rights."  The final peace agreement (Chapultepec) of 1992 included mention the Office of the National Counsel for the Defence of Human Rights, or Procuraduria para la Defense de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH).  More specifically, the agreement stipulated that a National Counsel should be appointed within 90 days after the entry into force of the constitutional reforms contained in the Mexico Agreement, and COPAZ (National Commission for the Consolidation of Peace) was tasked with preparing a draft bill creating the institution.  The Salvadoran constitution was amended to include reference to the Counsel, and the PDDH was established by law in March 1992.       

In the case of Guatemala, the institution of the Counsel (or Ombudsman) for Human Rights, or Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (PDH) was established in 1987, thus before the peacemaking phase in the early 1990s between the Guatemalan government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG).  Nevertheless, the 1994 Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights stated that the Counsel for Human Rights "must be supported and strengthened" in the exercise of its functions.

Salvadoran and Guatemalan cases exhibit a number of key similarities.  First, in both post-conflict countries the national human rights institution was empowered with a broad mandate and extensive powers. Both institutions are mandated to monitor government (public) administration and to promote and protect human rights. Albeit with some differences, their functions, in broad terms, include: handling complaints and investigating human rights violations, initiating judicial or administrative proceedings, making recommendations on state reforms, and undertaking educational programs. 

Second, despite a broad mandate and extensive powers on paper, the effectiveness of the national human rights institutions is constrained by political circumstances beyond its control, such as the lack of sufficient funding, the endemic corruption and malfunctioning of the judicial branch, and the oftentimes non-cooperative attitude of the government. 

Third, in both cases, the national human rights institution operated for some time alongside a UN verification mission charged with monitoring compliance with the terms of the peace agreement.  And in both cases relations between the national human rights institution and the UN mission were initially tense and competitive, but eventually became more cooperative.  In the case of El Salvador, the Human Rights Division of the UN Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) provided technical and advisory assistance to the PDH in order to strengthen the new institution.  In Guatemala, the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) initiated a comprehensive training program to improve the skills of PHD staff in human rights verification. 

Fourth, these two post-conflict experiences also show that the success (or failure) of national human rights institutions depends on success (or failure) in other dimensions of peacebuilding, especially democratization, judicial reform, and public security.  There is an important post-conflict paradox here: where other state institutions (the judiciary, law enforcement agencies) do not function properly, a national human rights institution is uniquely positioned to play a significant role, but, at the same time, its ability to carry out its mandate is impeded by the malfunctioning of those other state institutions.  

For more information:

O'Shaughnessy, Laura Nuzzi, Michael Dodson, and Donald W. Jackson. "Institution-Building in Post-Accord El Salvador: Development of the Ombudsman for the Defense of Human Rights."  Paper prepared for delivery at the Annual Meeting of the Latin American Studies Association Meeting, Chicago, Illinois, September 24-27, 1998.

Parleviliet, Michelle.  "National Human Rights Institutions and Peace Agreements: Establishing National Institutions in Divided Societies." International Council on Human Rights Policy, 2006.

Rief, Linda C. "Building Democratic Institutions: The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in Good Governance and Human Rights Protection." Harvard Human Rights Journal 13 (Spring 2000): 1-69. 

Guatemala - Human Rights Ombudsman (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos - PDH)

El Salvador Ombudsmans Office for the Defense of Human Rights (Procuraduria para la Defense de los Derechos Humanos)

USIP Peace Agreements Digital Collection - El Salvador

USIP Peace Agreements Digital Collection - Guatemala

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Sierra Leone: District-level human rights committees and resource centers

After a decade of civil war, Sierra Leone has been laboring to lay the foundations of sustainable peace.  The United Nations Integrated Mission in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) is mandated to help the Government build national capacities for "addressing the root causes of conflict."  Human rights promotion and protection is seen by international and local actors as a key pillar of the overall peacebuilding endeavor in Sierra Leone.  According to UNIOSIL, "building and strengthening the capacity of human rights civil society organizations is a compelling necessity for the consolidation of peace and respect for human rights in any country emerging from conflict."  As such, UNIOSIL's Human Rights and Rule of Law Section and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have been working together to foster national capacities (both state and civil society) for promoting and protecting human rights. 

A key project, carried out by UNIOSIL and financed by OHCHR, has been the establishment of District Human Rights Committees and resources centers for those committees. The District Human Rights Committees are umbrella organizations comprising human rights NGOs and groups.  According to an OHCHR report, these committees "are playing an essential role in monitoring the human rights situation in their respective areas as well as sensitizing local communities on human rights."  The committees monitor and report on human rights conditions and raise awareness about human rights at the district level.  UNIOSIL provided training to these district-level human rights groups on human rights promotion and protection.  To increase the ability of these committees to carry out their human rights promotion and protection work (such as human rights education and awareness-raising, human rights monitoring and reporting), UNIOSIL established human rights resource centers that contain furniture, computers, printers, motorbikes and other office supplies.  UNIOSIL handed over the resources centers to the District Human Rights Committees in the southern regions of Kenema, Bo and Bonthe.  OHCHR will support the functioning of these resource centers for a one-year period, paying the rents, providing office equipment, and hiring enough local staff to keep the centers open on a daily basis to the public.

This may be an interesting case study because it would present one concrete example of how international and local actors may cooperate to increase local capacities for human rights promotion and protection in a post-conflict setting.

For more information:

United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL). "UN Enhances the Capacity of District Human Rights Committees in Sierra Leone." April 10, 2008.

UN News Centre. "Local Human Rights Bodies in Sierra Leone Benefit From UN-Provided Facilities." April 10, 2008. 

United Nations General Assembly.  Assistance to Sierra Leone in the field of Human Rights: Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. A/HRC/4/96, March 2, 2007.

Sierra Leone Court Monitoring Program (SLCMP)

Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL)

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) - Sierra Leone Country Page

United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL)

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Uganda: A peacebuilding-oriented national human rights institution

This case study would examine the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), particularly its role in promoting & protecting human rights and its increasingly important role in promoting conflict resolution and peacebuilding.  The Ugandan Human Rights Commission is generally seen as a successful case of establishing a viable national human rights Commission.  The UHRC was established under the 1995 Ugandan Constitution, and Article 52(1) of the Ugandan Constitution lays down the functions of the UHRC.  These functions include monitoring the ongoing human rights situation in the country, conducting human rights education, making recommendations to the Parliament, and monitoring the Government's compliance with international human rights treaties.  Article 52(2) of the Constitution also mandates the UHRC to publish periodic and annual reports on the countrys human rights situation.  It is generally acknowledged that the UHRC has a comparatively broad mandate and extensive powers, including, for example, the ability to summon any person to appear before it and to order the release of any person in case of a human rights violation. 

While the UHRC's mandate is to promote and protect human rights in Uganda, and although it does not have a specific mandate with regard to peacebuilding, it is playing an increasingly visible and important role in peacebuilding, especially in conflict-affected regions of Uganda.  The UHRC has established branches in conflict-affected regions to address human rights and peacebuilding issues particular to those regions.  It has also established civil-military operation centers to facilitate coordination and collaboration between military and civil stakeholders, and to provide a forum for discussing and resolving human rights issues.  The UHRC has also played a key role in the disarmament process in the region of Karamoja (north-eastern Uganda) through an extensive sensitization campaign, which led to the peaceful handing in of weapons. Last but not least, it would be important to assess how these activities have interfered with debates around transitional justice, and more particularly the indictments by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

For more information:

Mottiar, Shauna.  "The Uganda Human Rights Commission: Beyond protection and promotion of human rights." In Defenders of Human Rights, Managers of Conflict, Builders of Peace? National Human Rights Institutions in Africa, eds. Michelle Parlevliet, Guy Lamb and Victoria Maloka: 108-126. Cape Town, South Africa: Centre for Conflict Resolution, 2005.

Sekaggya, Margaret (Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission). "Experiences of the Uganda Human Rights Commission in fulfilling its mandate." Conference for Commonwealth National Human Rights Institutions, Organized by Commonwealth Secretariat, February 26-27, 2007.

Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC)

The news, reports, and analyses herein are selected due to there relevance to issues of peacebuilding, or their significance to policymakers and practitioners. The content prepared by HPCR International is meant to summarize main points of the current debates and does not necessarily reflect the views of HPCR International or the Program of Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. In addition, HPCR International and contributing partners are not responsible for the content of external publications and internet sites linked to this portal.