In a Common Hour event on Thursday, November 29, Sonia Cardenas, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Human Rights Program, spoke about the global rise of national human rights institutions, the subject of her upcoming book, Chains of Justice: The Global Rise of National Human Rights Institutions.

Cardenas, who has traveled widely in researching this book and two previously published books, noted that today there are 115 National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), which are administrative bodies responsible for promoting and protecting human rights domestically. Only 15 countries, including the United States, have not expressed any interest in creating an NHRI.

The highest concentration is in Europe, but they can also be found in the Americas, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. Cardenas said there was “explosive growth” in the creation of NHRIs in the 1990s, concurrent with the end of the Cold War, the drive toward democracy and an increased interest in the need to foster human rights.

Some of the NHRIs have “exceeded expectations,” such as the one in Uganda, while others have disappointed, for example those in Fiji and Honduras. Cardenas said, in many cases, it’s hard to assess whether the NHRIs have made a difference. “Ultimately, protecting and promoting human rights must be aimed at improving peoples’ lives.”

Cardenas’s lecture was presented just days before the start of Human Rights Week at Trinity College, December 3 – 7, 2012, which this year will focus on disability rights.