Strategic Vision

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Human rights work in (post) conflict societies can be a powerful vector to rebuild and contribute to peace. In turn, investing in conflict prevention, management and peacebuilding can promote an environment free of gross human rights violations, discrimination and systemic violence. NHRIs can feed their human rights expertise and mandate in conflict prevention, management, and reconciliation through various initiatives, including community engagement, mediation, the adoption and monitoring of peace agreements, reconciliation workshops, or contribution to transitional justice. 

At the same time, working in (post) conflict settings and divided societies brings inherent challenges. NHRIs’ work, like any other actor working in fragile environments, may raise perceptions of bias, tensions, and have negative impacts on individuals or communities. This requires to put in place an analysis of the situation at play and conflict dynamics, so that NHRIs can focus their work on issues contributing positively to conflict dynamics, address root causes of the conflict and support peace.

An NHRI’s resources may also be particularly stretched in contexts of multiple urgent human rights violations or abuses, with new, evolving areas of work to its staff members. Partners and interlocutors of the NHRI, as well as the NHRI staff and the institution itself can also come under threat as a result of their work. A strong strategic analysis and planning should be conducted, including methodologies, plans for immediate action and staff training.

This section proposes a methodology, including steps and tools, for NHRIs to respond to those challenges. This is the result of a series of consultations with ENNHRI members and NHRIs from other world regions. The steps proposed below are not intended to provide an exhaustive checklist of actions to be implemented by NHRIs, but rather a framework that NHRIs can consider to transfer to their own context. The UN Paris Principles should be used as core principles to guide NHRIs through all steps proposed, at all levels of analysis and implementation.

Strategic Steps

Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
Risk Analysis and Mitigation
Step 5
Adopt Strategies
Step 6
Reviewing and adapting

Step 1: Analysing

NHRIs conduct human rights analyses to define their strategic priorities. In (post) conflict situations, strategic analysis should include a review of the conflict dynamics, actors, historical roots and possible scenarios of future developments. It is widely recognised in the peacebuilding field that such analysis – often called ‘conflict analysis’ – is essential to conduct impactful and sustainable action, without negatively influencing the peacebuilding process. 

Both human rights and conflict analyses should be conducted in synergy so that links between the conflict dynamics and actual/possible upcoming human rights violations are made visible. This can prove a useful source of information that NHRIs can build on to take ownership of this exercise and put in place their own methodologies for strategic analyses. 

  1. Context analysis: listing key relevant political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental developments which have happened locally, regionally, and internationally (referred to as ‘PESTLE analysis’). This step does not have to focus yet on human rights violations, analysed through the following steps.
  2. Cause of conflict: identify structural causes and historical roots of conflict, understand the relevance of human rights violations, discrimination, injustice, repression and exploitation as root causes of the conflict.  
  3. Dynamics of the conflict: interaction between the conflict actors and the causes of the conflict. Identify trends, potential triggers of conflict and opportunities. Situate where human rights stand in that landscape. 
  4. Consequences of conflict on human rights: understand how the (post) conflict situation impacts on the human rights of individuals, and how this could trigger further tensions/link with the root causes
  5. Actors involved: identify all those engaged in or being affected by the conflict. Connect how those actors overlap or differ with those perpetuating or being victims of human rights violations.  
  6. Legal analysis: based on the type of conflict and international legal qualification of the conflict (e.g. non-international, international), applicable international legal framework (such as international humanitarian law) and subsequent obligations  
  7. Possible risks: potential and actual threats to the NHRI as an institution, its staff members or partners of the NHRI (human rights defenders, civil society, individuals, etc.) which results from the previous elements of analysis.

Example of elements for consideration for NHRI Strategic Analysis:

Distinguishing between human rights violations as causes and consequences of the conflict is not a straightforward exercise, but it is an important step of the analysis. It helps to build an understanding of the underlining cause/s of conflict, its connection to human rights, and how human rights violations resulting from conflict can in turn feed into this dynamic. While no analysis will perfectly situate how these elements interact with each other, this step remains important to understand how NHRIs can have a positive impacts for human rights.   

Connecting Human Rights and Conflict Transformation 
Conflict Analysis Resource – Saferworld

Step 2: Prioritising 

The next step is to define the NHRI’s vision of the changes it would like to support to respond to the situation, including on structural issues of human rights abuses. This vision should be built on a strong understanding of:

  • Structural/systemic issues as a source of conflict, where human rights abuses serve as cause for conflict (‘longer term vision’)
  • Urgent and immediate responses needed by the NHRI (‘short-term relief’) 

In most cases of violent conflict, there will be inevitable tensions between priorities on the short and longer run. An NHRI may be caught in between having to protect people from direct, physical violence and preventing those situations to arise (e.g. right to life), and focusing on deeper issues of structural violence, discrimination, abuses, and failures of the rule of law system. This should be properly analysed, so that the NHRI can link as much as possible its urgent work with structural issues identified, and plan actions for the latter.

A clear distinction between the conflict phases can help to visualise and prioritise actions: conflict prevention, conflict management, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. 

Conflict preventionConflict ManagementConflict Resolution and Peacebuilding
Priorities: structural
Address structural issues and human rights violations which may lead to conflict

Act as an early-warning mechanism to prevent further human rights violations
Priorities: structural
Protecting individuals from direct and physical violence, and from other serious violations resulting from the conflict 

Connect protection work to structural issues leading to conflict, where possible
Priorities: structural
Addressing the structural issues and human rights violations that led to conflict

Warn of human rights violations which could lead to further conflict (including violations)
Examples of focus:
freedom of religion; rights of ethnic minorities; economic, social and cultural rights – poverty, rights in the context of fighting terrorism, rights of migrants, freedom of expression and assembly, etc.
Examples of focus:
 right to life, discrimination, rights in detention, social and economic rights (especially housing, property, social support, education), sexual violence
Examples of focus:
economic, social and cultural rights (property, housing, social infrastructure, education); election, reintegration (combatants, IDPs), other human rights violations as root causes of the conflict

Step 3: Planning 

This step looks at how NHRIs, with their specific mandate and functions, can plan activities and employ methodologies to achieve the proposed objectives. NHRIs can make a list of functions to use, e.g. monitoring, reporting, advice, legal support, complaints handling, strategic litigation, human rights education and awareness-raising, and review their strategic relevance to address the priorities identified. Despite the complementary and mutually reinforcing functions, this exercise allows NHRIs to analyse which tools at its disposal could be best used to address (post-)conflict situations, thus ensuring synergies and maximising its impact.

A ‘reality check’ of internal capacities for this work (legal mandate at national and international level, staff time, budget, internal processes) must be carried out. It is also very important to identify which actors may be conducting work in the same field, including human rights defenders, civil society, human rights and peacebuilding NGOs and international organisations in order to make sure that the strategies put in place by the NHRI are not a duplication of existing initiatives, and are developed to maximise synergies.

Conflict preventionConflict ManagementConflict Resolution and Peacebuilding
Human rights monitoring, advising, dialogue, engaging actors, including non-stateMonitoring and reporting on the application of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law; documenting human rights violations and investigation; advice on state legislation and action, placing human rights in peace agreements, litigation and legal advice; support to Human Rights Defenders; human rights protection; training, education and public awarenessSupporting reintegration, ie demobilisation of combatants, return of refugees/displaced persons), dealing with land redistribution when relevant
transitional justice, confidence-building measures; human rights education; awareness-raising
reintegration (combatants, IDPs), etc. Monitoring of the peace agreement. Tackling the root causes of the conflict

Step 4: Risk Analysis and Mitigation 

NHRIs not only can face strong pushbacks against their work, but their staff and people or organisations with whom the NHRI works may also be at risk. Strong methodological frameworks for risks analyses and protocols should be in place, in order to plan work, anticipate risks and find mitigation measures to them. 

This analysis should include: 

  • Risk to the NHRI mandate (e.g. threats to independence, reduction in mandate, financial cuts, electronic and in person surveillance)
  • Risks to the NHRI staff (e.g. arrests, verbal, written, physical or digital attacks, death threats, restriction of freedom of movement, administrative or judicial harassment, trumped-up charges) 
  • Risks to NHRI interlocutors (as for NHRI staff): human rights defenders, NGOs, other civil society actors, witnesses, perpetrators, etc. 

This should give an overview of adaptations and protocols needed, with minimum negative impacts for those involved in these activities. No situation involves no risks at all, especially in (post) conflict environments. What should be assessed is the likelihood and severity of those risks, and mitigations that can be put in place to face them.  

The concept of “do no harm” is particularly relevant to this phase of analysis, and particularly relevant for actors who provide information to the NHRI.

ENNHRI and international support to NHRIs under threat

NHRIs are recognised in the UN system as human rights defenders, and as such are protected by international mechanisms relevant to those. ENNHRI has adopted a Policy on NHRIs Under Threat which includes steps and scenarios for the network support in those cases. More information available at:

Step 5: Adopt Strategies 

The following is a compilation of various examples of methodologies and processes that can be adopted by the NHRI to achieve the objectives identified during its strategic planning. That list is not exhaustive but rather collated to provide inspiration for each NHRI to consider how those can be helpful in their national contexts. 

Set-up early warning mechanisms: NHRIs are well-placed to receive information of tensions in the society that could eventually lead to violence and conflicts, including through their human rights monitoring. Some NHRIs in different world regions have put in place systems for early-warning of crises or conflicts. For NHRIs, this involves setting-up internal structures, such as teams or focal points deployable or based in local offices. 
Support individuals and communities at risk: There are different strategies that NHRI can adopt to maximise their human rights monitoring and impact on individuals and communities at risk. This may include a pluralistic/diverse NHRIs team/staff to facilitate interaction; the designation of an NHRI staff contact point; advisory groups or commissions with staff members and external experts, and hosting targeted meetings and workshops with experts and representatives from these communities (source).

Human rights violations against individuals and communities at risk, in particular ethnic, racial, religious and other groups or minorities, has been considered as one of the root cause of conflict in various contexts across Europe. It is important that NHRI look at how those violations, if existing in their contexts, have triggered tensions, have been addressed, and if still occurring could lead to further unrest or violence. NHRIs should also pay special regard to the human rights situation of children, persons with disabilities, internally displaced persons, refugees and migrants, and the LGBTQI community. Women and girls empirically suffer greater human rights violations in times of (post) conflict, which recognition should be associated to the multi-folded role they can play in peace processes and not only focus on representing them only as victims. Often, profiles at the cross-roads of these groups face even higher likeliness of human rights violations.

Engagement strategies: on the basis of the stakeholders mapping conducted in previous phases of this section, NHRIs can develop strategies to conduct and maximise the impact of their work. This includes the engagement that all NHRIs should conduct within their mandate, such as advice to state bodies and actors, cooperation with other human rights defenders, support to human rights defenders and civil society, or engagement with the private sector. In parallel, creativity is important in (post) conflict contexts to build alliances with other actors such as the media, political parties, artists, communities, the youth, or marginalised people.

Step 6: Reviewing and adapting 

It is important to monitor and evaluate regularly the situation, especially as the context, challenges and opportunities tend to evolve rapidly in (post-)conflict settings. Those steps could be conducted as part of strategic planning, as an initial exercise to take stock of the situation. This process can also be used when observing a change in circumstances, regularly, as well as before taking ‘smaller steps’ in order to identify what may have evolved, and what adaptations are needed. Flexibility and rapidness in reacting to changes in such context is essential to ensure an adequate response from the NHRI.  

Cross-Cutting Tips 

Need for urgent responses versus time spent on analyses: It is well understood that it may not be practical nor recommended to conduct one step after another in times of emergency, if putting at risk the capacity of the NHRI to respond to urgent situations. There might be insufficient time for deep analysis, and some emergency actions might be required at the same time as analysis, such as ensuring human rights monitoring and reporting or access for the public to the NHRI. At the same time, strategic thinking should not be put aside for the sake of reacting to a succession of upcoming situations. This runs the risk to exhaust the NHRI’s capacity and opportunities for wider impacts. Information collected during emergency action should be used for strategic analysis, at an adequate time depending on each single situation. 

Resources to conduct strategic analyses: conducting those steps can require resources which are difficult to mobilise for NHRIs, especially as their resources are stretched in times of conflict. At the same time, that step is a basis for efficient, impactful work if conducted and used adequately. It is advisable that NHRIs integrate time and resources spent in its strategic and operational plans. 

Participation of staff: it is often recommended that human rights and conflict analyses be a team-wise exercise rather than the responsibility of a few selected senior NHRI staff members; as the analysis will eventually have impacts on the overall NHRI strategic planning and work across the NHRI. However, sometimes, it may be advisable that staff with specific specialisation, such as those with conflict management backgrounds or psychologists, provide inputs on relevant aspects of the definition of priorities and strategic planning.  

Engagement with stakeholders: engagement with government bodies is required under the Paris Principles, and vice-versa so that the NHRI can fulfil its mandate. Cooperation with other actors at the local, regional and international levels such as civil society and international organisations is also key to collect and verify information. NHRIs should engage with stakeholders throughout the steps identified in this Chapter, for example to:

  • Collect information for the strategic analysis 
  • Communicate priorities identified, and collect feedback 
  • Liaise on interventions and strategies planned 
  • Collect inputs for the monitoring and evaluation of interventions 

NHRIs may face reluctance from state bodies to engage. Building cooperation with international and civil society organisations can support NHRIs. International organisations can recommend engagement with NHRIs, and information on the human rights and (post-)conflict situation can be exchanged between the NHRI and stakeholders. 

International organisations and some NGOs usually develop their own situational analysis, alongside with their strategic plans, tools and security protocols for use in (post) conflict contexts. Where possible, NHRIs could cooperate with those actors to build synergies between those tools, identify key relevant information, design analyses and advise how human rights could be further built in other organisations’ strategies.