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A Charter of Rights for North America: A Proposal and Analysis

Wilson Center public policy scholar James McHugh presented his research on the potential to deepen relations among NAFTA members through the adoption of a continental charter of rights.

Date & Time

Jul. 20, 2010
4:00pm – 5:00pm ET


There is evidence to suggest that Canadian, American, and Mexican political values are moving closer together, which may allow for the eventual establishment of a charter of rights for North America, said Woodrow Wilson Center public policy scholar James McHugh at an event hosted by the Canada Institute. The program offered an opportunity for McHugh to present his research on the potential to deepen relations among NAFTA members through the adoption of a continental charter of rights.

McHugh explained that part of the challenge of his work was to visualize how to think of North America as a distinct regional community and what principles might form the basis for an agreement on a charter of rights for the continent. He suggested that NAFTA may represent a starting point to find such principles for future expanded integration. NAFTA, said McHugh, indicates that Canada, the United States, and Mexico all value core liberal economic principles, and share similar beliefs regarding the value of a democratic society and liberal institutions. This could eventually allow for discussions on furthering integration via a continental charter of rights.

McHugh maintained that institutions such as a charter of rights can alter the behavior or approach of the state. He believes that while states may not feel bound to a charter of rights, they still have to justify why a particular policy action may run contrary to such an agreement. According to McHugh, the significance of a regional charter is that it creates an expectation of appropriate behavior that affects how states act.

Of the universal and regional charters McHugh examines, he finds the Charter of Rights for the Organization of American States (OAS) to be the best model for drafting a North American charter of rights. He explained that this is because all three North American countries are already signatories to the charter, which has language and expectations that all NAFTA members, along with others in the OAS, have agreed upon previously.

McHugh's draft of a continental charter of rights is organized in three parts: general obligations; civic and political rights; and economic, social, and cultural rights. The draft can be viewed under the links section on this webpage.

Drafted by Kay She, Canada Institute Intern
David Biette, Director, Canada Institute


Hosted By

Canada Institute

The mission of the Wilson Center's Canada Institute is to raise the level of knowledge of Canada in the United States, particularly within the Washington, DC policy community.  Research projects, initiatives, podcasts, and publications cover contemporary Canada, US-Canadian relations, North American political economy, and Canada's global role as it intersects with US national interests.  Read more

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