18, September, 2012

Latin America’s National Human Rights Institutions: Fostering Democratic Transitions and Guaranteeing Human Rights

National Human Rights Institutions have played a key role in Latin America’s recent history and democratic transition. They have taken a distinct form in the region compared to the rest of the world, one which reflects the specific context and historical moment of Latin America.

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Latin America – also known as Public Defenders, Ombudsman Offices, Human Rights Commissions or Human Rights Attorneys – take on a variety of roles.  Overall, they aim to bring civil society demands before public authorities, mediate social conflicts of public interest and provide an array of inclusive mechanisms for social involvement. They also influence public policies to incorporate a human rights approach, address cases of serious human rights violations, promote victims’ rights and issue recommendations to authorities in order to reinstitute their rights. Overall, these institutions also serve as a means of balancing power asymmetries between the State and the citizenry and promoting accountability amongst government agencies. This Brief analyses innovative practices implemented by Latin America’s NHRIs, as well as the contextual elements which have made their development and efficient enforcement possible.

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Key Lessons:

  • Within contexts of severe deteriorations in the enforcement and validity of human rights - as was the case during the region’s dictatorships and civil wars - NHRIs have become key players in re-establishing democratic conditions in many Latin American countries.
  • Within countries that adhere to international Treaties or Regulations on human rights, the NHRIs can play an essential role in achieving the immediate and effective enforcement of human rights at the national level.
  • From the moment they were recognised legally or constitutionally by their countries, NHRIs have been able to establish a mandate which is interpreted proactively and with guarantees backing it. This recognition has also allowed them to take part in creating public policies with a human rights approach and has empowered them to effectively promote, defend and protect human rights.

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