International and regional actors recognise the role that National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) play in safeguarding human rights and enabling democratic space. We contribute to this recognition by engaging in a timely manner with relevant actors and raising awareness of the important role of NHRIs in promoting and protecting human rights.

We contribute to the recognition of NHRIs by:

  • Meeting with representatives of relevant international and regional institutions
  • Actively participating in stakeholder meetings
  • Providing inputs to draft documents to be adopted

The overview below details some of the ways in which NHRIs are recognised at the international and regional levels and provides more information on the role we play in this area.

Council of Europe

The Recommendation recognises the role of NHRIs in promoting and protecting an enabling environment for human rights and acknowledges the threats that NHRIs face. It recommends the establishment of NHRIs in compliance with the UN Paris Principles, and where they already exist, strengthening them for human rights protection and promotion, including strengthening their role to protect and promote an effective environment for civil society.

The document recommends cooperation and seeking assistance, when needed, from ENNHRI and regional and international bodies.

This is the first document at the ministerial level of the Council of Europe which explicitly recognises NHRIs in compliance with the UN Paris Principles as Human Rights Defenders.  Furthermore, as a recommendation is the strongest non-binding document that can be adopted by the Committee of Ministers, this marked a milestone in the recognition of the role of NHRIs in defending civil society space.

The Comment highlights the important role of strong, effective and independent NHRIs for democracy and the rule of law. The Commissioner views NHRIs as natural counterparts at the national level and as valuable partners in monitoring and promoting human rights during her mandate.

The Comment states that NHRIs under threat, which are considered to be Human Rights Defenders, are a concern of the Commissioner’s mandate and that it is essential that they have access to effective protection mechanisms. It emphasises the importance of providing NHRIs with the needed budget, independence and space for effective operation. The Commissioner recommends that Member States of the Council of Europe strengthen the role of NHRIs in the region.

The Decision underlines the importance of strengthening the role and meaningful participation of civil society organisations and NHRIs to increase the openness and transparency towards civil society in Council of Europe Member States. It also highlights the need for further strengthening of the Council of Europe mechanisms for the protection of Human Rights Defenders.

In February 2019, the Steering Committee for Human Rights Drafting Group on Civil Society and National Human Rights Institutions (CDDH-INST) agreed to proceed to the revision of the Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the establishment of independent national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights.

CDDH-INST noted that it would be very useful to involve specialists, such as representatives of ENNHRI, in the process of revision. Furthermore, the new draft Recommendation on the development of the Ombudsman institution should be taken into account to ensure complementarity of both instruments.

In September 2019, our Chair and other NHRI representatives participated in an informal exchange of views before the Committee of Ministers, where they highlighted contributions of NHRIs to human rights and rule of law. This came ahead of the Committee of Ministers’ planned update of its Recommendation in early 2020.

European Union

ENNHRI has been mentioned as a potential partner in proposing a new EU Rule of Law mechanism in various European Parliament debates and resolutions. Our proposed role has gradually been changing, from being a stakeholder designating experts to the Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Expert Panel (DRF) to being an observer to the Panel once it is established.

» Download Draft opinion on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of the Union’s budget in case of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in the Member States

In response to a Communication, we made a submission to the European Commission (DG JUST) stating how the EU’s rule of law toolbox could be enhanced through partnership with NHRIs.

The submission provided recommendations on the potential role of NHRIs in contributing to:

  • Promotion of the rule of law
  • Early prevention
  • Provision of responses tailored to the national context

All the actions proposed in the submission are equally relevant for NHRIs in EU and non-EU states, as the latter can contribute to the rule of law work of the Directorates-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) and International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO), and through Council of Europe mechanisms.

Our submission mentioned above is considered to also be a contribution to a new European Commission Communication, which recognises the key role of ombudspersons and human rights institutions in the effective enforcement of EU law.

Main outcomes of the Communication are:

  • European Commission will establish a Rule of Law Review Cycle to monitor rule of law deficiencies, linked to monitoring the capacity of all actors playing a role in the enforcement of EU law, including independent authorities, ombudsmen and human rights institutions
  • European Commission will follow up on the idea of a yearly event on rule of law for dialogue with and between civil society organisations and policy makers at EU level
  • European Commission calls on civil society organisations and social partners to continue their monitoring and contribution to the discussion on the impact and concrete consequences of rule of law deficiencies in their respective area of responsibility

The European Economic and Social Committee has actively been reaching out to us to explore the possibility of engagement with their work on Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights (FRRL). In July 2019, ENNHRI representatives attended a high-level meeting where they spoke with the representatives from the FRRL Group on the work of NHRIs on these areas at the national level and discussed the possibility of future cooperation.

Moreover, the FRRL Group is carrying out fact-finding missions in EU Member States to get a picture of the rule of law at the national level and its connection to fundamental rights. The Group expressed interest in engaging with NHRIs during their country missions.

The study, which is currently being conducted, will serve to update FRA’s 2010 report on the situation of NHRIs in the EU. The aim of the report is to identify challenges and opportunities for NHRIs to effectively fulfil their statutory mandates. It will emphasise new developments, such as the establishment of ENNHRI and the increasingly challenging context for NHRIs to operate as Human Rights Defenders.

We, among other actors, will contribute to the drafting of the report. The report will feed into European and national parliamentary debates, promote increased policy interest in the situation of NHRIs and raise public awareness of the role NHRIs play in the promotion and protection of human rights in the EU.

EU officials from European External Action Service (EEAS), European Council and European Commission have provided oral confirmations that NHRIs will be featured in the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, although it is not clear in which context.

Together with Global Alliance of NHRIs, and the NHRI networks of Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Americas, we made a submission to the EEAS concerning the new Action Plan. It recommended that NHRIs be included as actors with whom the EU will build partnerships with within the Action Plan, clarifying that reference to state or civil society actors does not include NHRIs.

Recent international developments

NHRIs in compliance with the UN Paris Principles are an indicator of SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions. Their important and accredited role is recognised in the SDG framework and Agenda 2030 reflecting the human rights-based approach to sustainable development.

ENNHRI has highlighted the contribution of NHRIs to SDG 16 at regional SDG consultations at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in March 2019 in Geneva and at the consultation on SDG 16+ in May 2019 in Sarajevo.

NHRIs implementing and monitoring SDG 16 through their broad human rights mandate was one of the central elements of discussion at the High-Level Political Forum 2019, which took place in July in New York.

In September 2018, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution on National Human Rights Institutions. It highlights the important role that NHRIs already play and will continue to play in strengthening participation of civil society organisations, promoting rule of law and contributing to the prevention of human rights violations and abuses as well as in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

The Resolution also recognises the cases of reprisals against NHRIs and those who cooperate with them as a result of activities undertaken in accordance with their mandates, calling States to investigate these cases.