Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies
Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies

A Supporting Player: The Australian Human Rights Commission

Guest lecture by Dr. Evans Case at Monash University

Mon, July 29, 2013 | Monash University; Building B, Level 4 Room 43 (B4.43)

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

National human rights institutions (NHRIs) are established and maintained by states, yet they are charged with promoting and protecting human rights, most often from state abuse, and doing so independently of government influence. Although they have proliferated, we know little about how NHRIs work and conditions under which they are effective.

Sceptics charge that these institutions are necessarily “toothless tigers”. Supporters of NHRIs often portray them as neutral experts. Evans Case challenges both views. Borrowing from the rich body of work on human rights activism, she lays out a general theoretical framework for evaluating effectiveness of NHRIs that treats these institutions as political actors. 

She applies this framework to the Australia Human Rights Commission, focusing in this talk on three campaigns in which the Commission played a significant role: the effort to end sterilisation of girls with disability, the effort to end mandatory detention of asylum seekers, and the quest for identity rights for transgendered persons. She shows that by virtue of its quasi-state status the Commission enjoys resources, powers and privileged access to policymaking forums that NGOs often lack. These assets have allowed it to play an important supporting role in wider advocacy campaigns.

Rhonda Evans Case earned a JD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and practiced law in the State of Ohio for two years. Now an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at East Carolina University, she is on a two-year leave of absence, serving as Director of the Edward A. Clark Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin.

Evans Case has written on the Australian Human Rights Commission, legal mobilisation in Australia and Europe, and dynamics of constitutional dialogue in the “Anglo-American” democracies. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Common Market Studies, Australian Journal of Political Science, Journal of Democracy and Congress and the Presidency. A recipient of the Board of Governors Distinguished Professor for Teaching Award for her work at East Carolina University, she has served as President of the Australian and New Zealand Studies Association of North America, and remains on the Board.

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