Printed at: 26/01/2015  –  04:20:04

Global Human Rights Institutions

By: Gerd Oberleitner (University of Graz)


The range of global human rights institutions which have been created over the past half century is a remarkable achievement. Yet, their establishment and proliferation raises important questions. Why do states create such institutions and what do they want them to achieve? Does this differ from what the institutions themselves seek to accomplish? Are global human rights institutions effective remedies for violations of human dignity or temples for the performance of stale bureaucratic rituals? What happens to human rights when they are being framed in global institutions?

This book is an introduction to global human rights institutions and to the challenges and paradoxes of institutionalizing human rights. Drawing on international legal scholarship and international relations literature, it examines UN institutions with a human rights mandate, the process of mainstreaming human rights, international courts which adjudicate human rights, and non-governmental human rights organizations.

In mapping the ever more complex network of global human rights institutions it asks what these institutions are and what they are for. It critically assesses and appraises the ways in which global institutions bureaucratize human rights, and reflects on how this process is changing our perception of human rights.

Top of Page

First Edition
Publication Dates ROW:
Oct 2007
Publication Dates US:
Dec 2007
Publication Dates Aus & NZ:
Oct 2007

237 x 158 mm
9.30 x 6.20 in
248 pages
First Edition
Publication Dates ROW:
Oct 2007
Publication Dates US:
Dec 2007
Publication Dates Aus & NZ:
Oct 2007

230 x 154 mm
9.05 x 6.05 in
248 pages

* Exam copies only available to lecturers for whom the book may be suitable as a course text.
Please note: Sales representation and distribution for Polity titles is provided by John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

Top of Page


"A useful text on advanced undergraduate/postgraduate human rights courses, and as a primer for researchers in the field looking to get a lot of information in one place."
Political Studies Review

"Oberleitner offers a lucid history, topography and enlightening assessments of the work of the major and some of the minor institutions that define the human rights movement today. The volume will be an excellent resource and guide for activists, civil servants, diplomats, researchers, students and their teachers."
J. Paul Martin, Columbia University

"At last we have a comprehensive account of human rights institutions that brings together international relations and international law perspectives. This panorama of a book will prove as valuable to international officials, diplomats and NGOs as it will to academics and their students."
Kevin Boyle, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex

Top of Page

Table of Contents

Preface by Conor Gearty.



1 Introduction.

2 Institutionalizing human rights: expectations, paradoxes, and consequences.

Efficiency, legitimacy, power.

Arena, instrument, actor.

Autonomy and dependence.

Form and function.

Bureaucracy: authority and alienation.

Predominance of law.

Exclusion and inclusion.

Guarding the guards.

Remedy and ritual.

3 The rise of global human rights institutions.

A timeline.

A typology.

Functions, activities, and expectations.

4 United Nations human rights institutions.

Commission on Human Rights.

‘Politicisation’: membership and selectivity.

Standard setting.

Advisory services and technical cooperation.

Response to human rights violations: 1235 and 1503.

Special procedures.

The Commission 1946-2006: achievements and legacy.

Human Rights Council.



First steps.

Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Membership, mandate, and activities.

Hierarchy, expertise, and politics.


Commission on the Status of Women.

Economic and Social Council.

General Assembly.

A ‘grand debate’ on human rights?.

Leadership, budget, standards, scrutiny.

Third Committee.


United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

A mandate between servant and shield.

From headquarters to the field.

Treaty bodies.

State reports.

Inter-state complaints.

Individual complaints.


General Comments.


5 Mainstreaming human rights.

From mandate to mainstreaming.

International Labour Organisation.

United Nations Development Programme.

United Nations Children’s Fund.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

World Health Organisation.

Food and Agricultural Organisation.

World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

World Trade Organisation.

Challenges ahead in mainstreaming human rights.

United Nations Security Council.

Safeguarding international peace and security.

Genocide, the responsibility to protect, and human security.

Peace operations.

Democratic legitimacy.

International humanitarian law and civilians in armed conflict.

Criminal justice for human rights violations.

Cooperation, transparency, and the role of NGOs.


6 World courts and human rights.

International Court of Justice.

International Criminal Court.

Towards a world court of human rights?.

7 Non-governmental organisations .

Independence between law and politics.

Consultation, co-operation, compensation, competition.


Information, definition, mobilisation.

Agenda-setting, norm-making, and policy development.

Accompanying implementation.

Advocacy, education, and operation.



8 Conclusion .



Top of Page

Author Information

Gerd Oberleitner is Director of the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy at the University of Graz.

Top of Page