National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are state-mandated bodies, independent of government, with a broad constitutional or legal mandate to protect and promote human rights at the national level. NHRIs address the full range of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

NHRIs are unique as they are national institutions with a legal mandate to promote and protect human rights domestically in an independent manner. Contrary to other national institutions, NHRIs are accredited with an internationally accepted quality label, on the basis of their compliance with the UN Paris Principles.

Functions of NHRIs

Advising on international legal compliance

Advising on the compliance of national laws and practices with all international human rights norms

Monitoring

Monitoring and investigating the human rights situation on the ground, such as freedom of expression and assembly

Advising

Advising government, parliament and other public bodies to address core human rights concerns, as well as to eradicate all forms of discrimination

Reporting

Reporting to the public, Parliament and international monitoring bodies such as the UN and Council of Europe

Complaints handling

Some NHRIs provide support for individuals to enforce their rights through complaints handling

Legal assistance

Providing support for individuals to enforce their rights through legal assistance

Research

Publishing research, recommendations and opinions

Cooperation

Cooperating with NGOs, civil society, state actors and regional actors

Promotion

Promoting a culture of rights, through training and awareness raising activities on a variety of issues, such as the right to adequate housing, health or education

Supporting Human Rights Defenders

Supporting the work of Human Rights Defenders to combat issues related to all areas of human rights

NHRIs as a bridge

A bridge between civil society and the state

As state-mandated bodies, independent of government, NHRIs sit between the state and civil society. NHRIs cooperate with a variety of civil society actors, and bring an accurate overview if the human rights situation, with recommendations, to governments, parliament and other state bodies.

A bridge between the national and international arena 

NHRIs apply international human rights standards at the national level, with a full understanding of the local context. At the same time, they report to international and regional human rights mechanisms a true picture of the human rights situation on the ground.

Why work with NHRIs?

As NHRIs in compliance with the UN Paris Principles continue to be established by governments across the world, they are increasingly viewed as globally-accepted local facilitators of universal human rights standards. European human rights actors also rely increasingly on NHRIs to provide trusted, credible and legitimate information on the human rights situations on the ground.

Watch this video to see what Human Rights Defenders from civil society, European institutions and European NHRIs had to say about the importance of working with NHRIs.

Legal Bases

The UN encourages states to work towards A status accreditation.

The UN General Assembly (in resolution A/RES/70/163, para. 24 on NHRIs) “calls the states to follow up on the recommendations of the Subcommittee on Accreditation of the ICC (GANHRI), with a view to enabling NHRIs to fully comply with the Paris Principles in both law and practice.”

The regulatory bases for states to be asked to establish NHRIs are quite varied. The UN mechanisms below have included requests for the establishment of NHRIs in compliance with the UN Paris Principles.

The UN Paris Principles were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993 (A/RES/ 48/134).

Bi-annual resolutions on NHRIs: e.g. A/RES/70/163 of 17 December 2015: “Encourages Member States to establish effective, independent and pluralistic national institutions or, where they already exist, to strengthen them for the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, as outlined in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action;” (A/RES/70/163, para. 8)

Resolution HRC/RES/ 33/15 from October 2016: “encourages Member States to establish effective, independent and pluralistic national human rights institutions or, where they already exist, to strengthen them to enable the effective fulfilment of their mandate to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, as outlined in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and to do so in accordance with the Paris Principles” (A/HRC/RES/33/15, para 2.)

Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) of states without an NHRI always include a recommendation to establish an NHRI in compliance with UN Paris Principles, such as: “Establish a strong and well-funded national human rights institution that is fully compliant with the Paris Principles.”(Recommended by Norway to Belgium, 2nd Cycle UPR, Belgium accepted)

UN General Assembly Resolution on NHRIs (A/RES/70/163, para. 9): “Welcomes the growing number of States establishing or considering the establishment of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights, and welcomes in particular the growing number of States that have accepted recommendations to establish national institutions compliant with the Paris Principles made through the universal periodic review and, where relevant, by treaty bodies and special procedures;” (A/RES/70/163, para. 9)

UN treaty bodies frequently issue recommendations for establishing or strengthening NHRIs. In case of Latvia, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that “the State party should provide the Ombudsman’s Office with adequate financial and human resources, in order to exercise its mandate in line with the Paris Principles and finalize an application for accreditation of the Ombudsman’s Office with the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.” (CCPR/C/LVA/CO/3, para. 5)

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the Convention (OPCAT) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) also reference the UN Paris Principles in relation to National Preventive Mechanisms (OPCAT) and Independent Monitoring Mechanism (CRPD). In many states, the NHRI is assigned with these mandates.

The UN Secretary-General recommended that: Member States should establish a national human rights institution compliant with the Paris Principles where none exists and strengthen the structures and independence of existing institutions to enable the independent and effective fulfilment of their mandate, taking into account the recommendations of the Subcommittee on Accreditation and advice from OHCHR. (A/70/347, para. 117)

In a report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary-General encouraged states: “to establish a national human rights institution where none exists, and to strengthen the structures and independence of existing ones in order to enable the effective fulfilment of their mandate, taking into account the recommendations made by the Subcommittee on Accreditation and the advice provided by OHCHR.” (A/HRC/27/39, para. 102)