Article Title



A quarter century ago, when I was elected to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the human rights institutional landscape had the appearance and analogical character of a largely undeveloped sub-division on the metropolitan fringe. In large part, the land was not even platted. Here and there a few structures poked out of the muddy soil. One, the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, had the look of a community hall built with little hope and less conviction by largely disinterested city fathers obligated to intimate belief in the sub-division’s arresting features and future. Among public buildings, only the European Court and Commission, located in the sub-division’s one prosperous quadrant, evidenced a serious commitment to and belief in the area’s development. Outside that quadrant, the only official structure exhibiting any sign of purposive activity other than the promulgation of norms was the Inter-American Commission. Overshadowing all these public buildings, even (arguably) the European Institutions, was a single distinguished non-governmental one, Amnesty International.

Today a thriving, richly diverse community occupies that once almost barren landscape. Public and private institutions pack its main streets. Collectively they form a vast network of norm generating, interpreting and enforcing activities that penetrate virtually every other sphere of human activity from diplomacy to international lending to global trade and investment. So abundant is the development that there is much overlap in structure and function and, conversely, there are a few gaps. Still, the community is not quite fully developed.