The International Council was conceived in 1994 by a small group of eminent human rights advocates, scholars and policy makers, lead by Philip Alston, Thomas Hammarberg and Margo Picken, to address the dilemmas and challenges of translating human rights principles and standards into policy realities. Their proposal, supported by a detailed advisory paper which Helena Cook and Christopher Bemrose prepared in June 1994, was subsequently discussed with a large number of human rights thinkers and organisations around the world.
The consultation identified the main principles that guided the ICHRP’s research methodology: strict independence; open-ended research with wide applicability (rather than a focusing on specific human rights violations by individual actors); a geographically inclusive and multidisciplinary approach; and a highly consultative and collaborative methodology.
In 1996, a founding Board was created. Its members were Thomas Hammarberg (Chair), Philip Alston, Abdullahi An-Na’im, Ligia Bolivar, Hina Jilani and Virginia Leary. At this stage, the organisation was called the International Human Rights Policy Research Institute.
The first Council was appointed in 1997. Its members were: Philip Alston, Abdullahi An-Na’im, Carlos Basombrio, Ligia Bolivar, Theo van Boven, Antonio A. Cancado Trindade, Stanley Cohen, Radhika Coomeraswamy, Yash Ghai, Thomas Hammarberg, Bahey El Din Hassan, Ayesha Imam, Hina Jilani, Virginia Leary, Goenawan Mohamed, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Margo Picken, Barney Pityana, Daniel Ravindran, Dorothy Thomas and Renate Weber. The first meeting took place in Cairo in September 1997 and subsequent Council meetings have been held in Lima, Jakarta, Guadalajara, Lahore, Budapest, Bangkok, Kampala and Geneva.
An interim Secretariat was set up in London in 1996 under Lynn Welchmann. In 1998, the Secretariat was established in Geneva under the first Executive Director, Robert Archer. The research programme began in earnest towards the end of that year, on the basis of several initial mapping papers that were prepared by the staff—especially the two first Research Directors, David Petrasek and Mohamed-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou—and by Andrew Clapham.
A lean and agile Secretariat with staff from different regions of the world carried out research projects by building global research teams and disseminating findings through outreach and policy advocacy initiatives. The organisation’s commitment to diversity was also institutionalised within the governing body, the International Council, whose members were leading lights in human rights activism, policy-making, academia, social movements, inter-governmental organisations and other communities of practice. The ICHRP therefore had a unique ability to create distinct networks of geo-political and multi-disciplinary expertise.
The Executive Board of ICHRP decided to close down the organisation in December 2011 in the light of continued financial difficulties. Despite its closure, the ICHRP leaves behind a rich legacy through both the knowledge it generated as well as its approach and methods that made a distinct contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights.
You can find out more about the ICHRP from the archive of all materials pertaining to its history and founding, operations over the years, research materials and communications at the library of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.