Cloth ISBN: 9780804760935
Paper ISBN: 9780804760942
Among human rights advocates, dominant wisdom holds that the promotion and protection of human rights relies not on international efforts, but on domestic action. International institutions may capture news headlines, but it is national groups that effectively shape local expectations and ultimately make human rights matter.
Through a series of case studies and an extensive range of interviews with the administrators and constituencies of national human rights institutions, Julie Mertus offers a close look at the day-to-day workings of these groups. She presents an unusual and lively set of European cases—examining Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, and Northern Ireland—to illustrate how local culture matters in promoting human rights.
But even with the obvious successes of these institutions, Mertus offers a cautionary tale. National institutions are incredibly difficult to design and operate, and they are only as good as the domestic political and economic factors will allow. It is too frequently seen that the countries most supportive of human rights on the world stage may prove to be highly disappointing back home.
About the author
Julie A. Mertus is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the MA program in Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs at American University. Her seven books include, The United Nations and Human Rights (2005) and Bait and Switch: Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy (2004), which was named Human Rights Book of the Year by the American Political Science Association Human Rights Section.
"The main merit of the book lies in the rich comparative analysis and the practical recommendations offered by the author. Excellent and coherent. . . By ending each chapter with an assessment of the NHRI and its political context, Mertus successfully combines the best of the two worlds: academic critique with practical policy recommendations. This makes Mertus' comparative analysis of NHRIs an encouraging encounter in an academic world where human rights are frequently studied either as legal-philosophical entries, disengaged from practice, or as unique local struggles, disconnected from comparison."
—Freek Van Der Vet, Suomen Antropologi
"As to the question of why human rights matter, for many people around the globe it is evident that the full enjoyment of human rights is the difference between despair and hope. Mertus offers many hopeful possibilities by making a strong case for the crucial role that stakeholder participation plays in responding to community interests and values. That insight is perhaps the greatest virtue of her book."
—Mahmood Monshipouri, San Francisco State University, Human Rights Quarterly
"Human Rights Matters offers insights and illustrations to highlight the effects of NHRIs, contributing to the large volume of descriptive and prescriptive work on the subject. Mertus asserts productively that the local context both shapes and is shaped by NHRIs."
—Sonia Cardenas, H-Net Reviews
"This insightful work makes a strong case that domestic human rights institutions are essential for understanding the diffusion and implementation of human rights, perhaps more important than the international institutions that have received the lion's share of scholarly attention. As interest in domestic human rights institutions continues to grow, Mertus's richly detailed findings will spark lively discussion and help to fill a considerable gap in the literature."
—Michael Goodhart, University of Pittsburgh
"Julie Mertus has recently enlightened readers on such subjects as human rights and the United States, and human rights and the United Nations. Here she provides a well considered and well crafted study of National Human Rights Institutions in five western countries, with passing reference to other situations. Her study of how these national organizations interact with their local environment as they try to translate international norms into local human rights improvements breaks new ground. Given the proliferation of such organizations around the world, this is an important and insightful study."
—David P. Forsythe, University of Nebraska
"With her usual rigor and flair, Julie Mertus profiles an increasingly important layer of the international human rights regime. This careful analysis of the record and potential of national institutions is an essential reference."
—Alison Brysk, University of California, Irvine
"Mertus adeptly shows the value of empirical analysis in answering the central questions of International Law. Both our legal theory and policy-makers have much to learn."
—Michael Likosky, University of London
"Mertus tackles a central but understudied issue: the contribution of national human rights institutions to the realization of internationally recognized human rights. In a series of lively and engaging European case-studies—Denmark, Germany, Northern Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Bosnia-Herzegovina —she provides not only new information about but valuable insight into the range of achievements and limitations of this increasingly popular mechanism for improving the realization of human rights."
—Jack Donnelly, University of Denver