Protestors against a proposed nuclear power station were made to undergo psychological counseling. What’s this now? Seriously? The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy has been protesting for some time, but as best I can tell from a quick perusal of the web, this is the first time there’s been an attempt to brainwash them. Maybe it’s not brainwashing, maybe it’s less sinister. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has demanded an explanation from the Indian government.
A little over a year ago I began a new project on National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) with Jackie DeMeritt and Courtenay Conrad (a current PhD student of mine, Ryan Welch, is the RA directing the daily operations of the project), one of which is the NHRC of India. I had been completely unaware of their existence when, while waiting for a flight, I encountered a news story about the NHRC’s annual report. It turns out that since the early 1990s hundreds of governments have created domestic institutions that have some mix of human rights advocacy, education, and watch dog functions. Not surprisingly, there is a considerable literature on the topic, and equally unsurprisingly it is dominated be legal scholars, with the discussion almost strictly historical descriptive and normative. Given my interest in how people can bind Leviathan (ungated PDF here), I floated the possibility of a data collection project to Professors Conrad and DeMeritt, and our project was born.
We have a long way to go before we will produce any research, but stories like the one that Choi-Fitzpatrick found hearten me. Local officials do all sorts of incredible things, and the fact that in some cases an NHRI such as the NHRC in India is paying attention strikes me as cause for optimism.
What is the scope of NHRIs’ activity, and do those activities make a difference? We are presently beta testing a coding scheme that will permit us to code the behavior that NRHIs record in the Annual Reports they publish. This past spring we completed an instrument that we used to code the institutional features of NHRIs, and we plan to introduce those data with a poster at the Peace Science Meeting this fall. At this point I have more questions than I could usefully enumerate and no answers. But I do know that NHRIs are frigging interesting, and I am excited to learn more about them.