The Paris Principles Twenty Years After

AuthorMaxwell Yalden
ProfessionFormer member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee
chapter 7
Maxwell Yalden2
In October 1991, in my capacit y as Chief Commissioner of the Can adian
Human Right s Commission, I at tended an inter national con ference in
Paris on Nationa l Instit utions for the Promot ion and Protect ion of Hu-
man Right s. The meeting h ad been organi zed at the invitation of the
French government , in cooperation with the French Nationa l Commis-
sion on Human Right s3 and the UN Cent re for Human Rig hts.4 The
agenda calle d for a review of patter ns of cooperation bet ween nationa l
and international ins titutions (such a s the United Nations a nd its agen-
cies) and an exploration of way s of increasing their e ectiveness.
When the confere nce reached agreement on a dec laration of pri n-
ciples and criter ia for the establ ishment and gover nance of Nationa l
Human Right s Instit utions (NHRI s), or the “Paris Pri nciples”5 as they
came to be known , one could hardl y have anticipated how e xtensive
1 The author is i ndebted to Karen Ha milton and John Dw yer, and to Sulin i
Saruga ser-Hug and other ocials of t he Canadian Hu man Rights Comm is-
sion, for their c ontributions to t his article.
2 Ma xwell Yalden is a f ormer member of t he United Nations Hu man Rights
3 La Commission nation ale consultat ive française d es droits de l’homme.
4 Later replaced by the Oce o f the High Commis sioner for Human Rig hts.
5 Properly known as t he Principles Relating to the Stat us of National Institu-
tions, annex to N ational Institutions f or the Promotion and Prot ection of Hu-
man Rights, CHR Res 54 , UNESCOR, Supp No 2, UN Doc E/1992/22, (1992); GA
Res 48/134, UNGAOR, 48th Ses s (1993) Annex [Paris P rinciples].
maxwell yalden
their impac t would be in the eld of human ri ghts. With the passage of
time, the essent ial place of the Principles a nd of the NHRIs that brid ge
domestic system s and the inter national hu man right s regime has be -
come evident. The Oce of t he High Commissioner for Human R ights
itself recogn ized their importance a s early as 1993: “It has . . . become
increasin gly apparent th at the eective e njoyment of human r ights
calls for t he establishment of nationa l infrastruc tures for their protec-
tion and prom otion.”6
In the twent y years since that observ ation, reliance on national i nsti-
tutions has cont inued to grow. It has also become inc reasingly clear t hat
an interna tional fra mework is needed to develop a worldw ide assort-
ment of otherwi se diverse in stitutions i nto a more coherent system i n
the defence of human r ights.
The Paris Con ference was not the  rst time thes e issues had su rfaced.
It followed upon a number of earl ier UN init iatives dire cted towards
enhanci ng the role of nationa l instit utions. A 1960 resolution of the
Economic and Socia l Council (ECOSOC), for example, recog nized the
unique role such in stitution s could play in the protec tion and promo-
tion of human rig hts.7 It went on to invite governments to encourage
the creation and de velopment of such bodies, and to commu nicate their
ideas on the subject t o the Secretary-Ge neral.
The rst World Conference on Huma n Rights wa s held in Teheran
from 22 April to 13 May 1968, to review t he progress made in the twent y
years since the a doption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
and to formulat e a programme for the futur e. It approved the Proclama-
tion of Teheran,8 wh ich, inter alia, rear med that:
6 Oc e of the High Commis sioner for Human Rig hts, “Fact Sheet No. 19:
National In stitutions for t he Promotion and Pro tection of Human Ri ghts”
(Geneva: OHCHR, Apr il 1993) [“Fact Sheet No 19”], online: OHCHR www.
7 United Nations Economic and So cial Council , Resolutions of National Adv i-
sory Committees on Human R ights, E/30, UNESCOR, 30th Sess , Supp No 1, UN
Doc E/3422, (1960) 14.
8 P roclamation of Teheran, Final Act of the I nternational Conference o n Hu-
man Rights, Teheran 22 Apr il to 13 May, 1968, UNGAOR, 1968, UN Doc A/
CONF.32/41, 3 [Teheran Proclamation].

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