Between October 2008 and 2012 the HRIC undertook a research project to examine the use and implementation of non-binding, so called ‘soft law’ documents in practice. (These are documents which are not formally legally binding on States but which nevertheless have been developed to influence State action.) The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), based in the UK. The overall aim of the project was to get a better understanding of the factors which influence how these documents are used in practice and how they contribute to the development of international human rights law generally.
The Implementation of Human Rights Standards (IHRS) project had a number of specific research objectives namely:
1. To examine how such documents have been developed and who were the actors involved
2. To review the relationship between soft law documents and binding (hard law) documents
3. To consider how and in what context soft law documents are used by key actors at the international, regional and national levels
4. To identify the various factors that may influence the extent to which soft law documents are used and complied with at the national level
The IHRS has sought to research these issues through a detailed analysis of the use of one soft law document of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights namely the ‘Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa’ commonly known as the ‘Robben Island Guidelines’. By tracking the development and subsequent use of one soft law document lessons learnt from this document could be identified and applied more generally contributing to a better understanding as to how soft-law documents impact upon the development of international human rights law.
Consequently, during the course of the research the IHRS project team also looked at what forms of follow up there should be to treaty body findings in general and a number of other types of soft law documents such as concluding observations, resolutions and decisions on individual communications from human rights bodies were also considered.
Throughout the course of the project a number of research documents were produced:
• High level seminar on African follow up to decisions of the African Commission ENG (PDF, 545kB)
• High level seminar on African Union follow up to decisions of the African Commission FR (PDF, 572kB)
• Seminar on national implementation mechanisms ENG (PDF, 488kB)
• Seminar on national implementation mechanisms FR (PDF, 641kB)
• Seminar on the Implementation of Treaty Body Decisions (PDF, 359kB)
• Seminar on the strategic use of soft law human rights documents (PDF, 445kB)
• Workshop for East African national human rights institutions on the implementation of torture prevention standards (PDF, 534kB)
There were two policy papers produced in the remits of the project:
• '10 Years of the Robben Island Guidelines and the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) – a time for synergy' - August 2012
• 'Policy paper on the possible future role and activities of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa (CPTA)' – July 2011
The overall findings of the research project were subsequently published in a book co-authored by Rachel Murray and Debra Long: ‘The Implementation of the Findings of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’, Oxford University Press, 2015.