In some parts of the world, progress lags

The 35-member Organization of American States has its own human rights court in San Jose, Costa Rica. And one is being set up by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which already has a human rights commission similar to those in Latin America and Europe.

But not everyone is joining the regional court bandwagon. As Latin America, Africa, and Europe experiment with ways to give individuals and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) greater latitude in bringing cases before human rights courts, the process is noticeably absent in Asia.

"There's been a lot of pressure from the UN on Asians to develop a regional process," says Peter Rosenblum, the director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.

"In a number of Asian countries there's the development of national human rights commissions," he adds. "So it could be that they will be the force leading regional standards rather than the European model of a European court."

Human rights commissions have their limitations, however, carrying moral weight but no enforcement powers.

And for many victims of governmental transgressions in Latin America, the place of last resort is the commission, not the court. In order for the Inter-American Court on Human Rights to hear a case, the defendant must be a government that has recognized the court's jurisdiction

In the next 10 days, Mexico, as well as Brazil, is expected to formally recognize the jurisdiction of the court, established in 1979, binding them to abide by its findings.

Still, only a handful of cases appear before the court each year, since both Inter-American bodies, modeled after the European court and commission, operate only part time.

Like its counterpart in the Americas, the Organization of African Unity has its own human rights commission. "Unfortunately, even when a report of the commission has accused a state of massive violation of human rights, you'll find that when it comes to the [general] assembly there is not much of a discussion," says Ben Kioko, the chief of legal affairs at the OAU.

Mr. Kioko, who was one of the four people who drafted the protocol for the court, hopes that will change once the court is established in a year or two.

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