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Overview of trends and challenges

Follow-up to the 2020 rule of law reporting 

Initiatives by state authorities

Initiatives by state authorities to follow-up to the 2020 rule of law reporting, as reported by NHRIs, have varied from country to country. NHRIs in several countries pointed to general follow-up action, such as within national action plans and strategies (such as in Croatia and Ukraine), systemic reviews of the rule of law environment to serve as basis for targeted reforms (such as in Kosovo*) or general discussions on rule of law issues (such as in Finland and Sweden). Sectoral follow-up initiatives were also reported, including on the fight against corruption (in Cyprus), on journalists’ safety (in Serbia) and on disinformation (in Spain). 

Initiatives by NHRIs

Most NHRIs followed-up to the 2020 rule of law reporting exercise through a broad dissemination of the 2020 ENNHRI Rule of Law Report, and of the European Commission’s rule of law report, as well as awareness raising initiatives addressed at national authorities and/or the general public (Albania, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia). NHRIs also used their rule of law reporting to formulate targeted recommendations or to feed into their annual reports (Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia). Some joint initiatives have also been reported, in particular a conference on protecting the rule of law and on the importance of an independent judiciary jointly organised by the German and Polish NHRIs. NHRIs also ensured follow-up through sectoral initiatives including through the organisation of events and meetings discussing rule of law matters (NHRIs in Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Moldova), engagement with national parliaments (Azerbaijan, Greece, Poland), publication of thematic reports (Cyprus, Poland), development of tools (Serbia, Ukraine) and litigation (Georgia, Poland). These actions variably included a specific rule of law thematic focus, such as media pluralism and journalist safety (Hungary, Georgia, Serbia), justice system (Northern Ireland, Slovenia), hate speech (Slovenia) or vulnerable groups (Slovakia).

NHRIs generally indicated that the 2020 rule of law reporting exercise had a positive impact on NHRIs’ work (see in particular reports on Albania, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia), for example as a useful source of information to get an overview of the rule of law situation across the region and learn from other NHRIs’ practices (Albania, Croatia, Denmark, Kosovo*, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine) and as a basis for cooperation and solidarity among institutions (Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Serbia and Slovakia). For several institutions, the 2020 reporting led to a strengthened focus on rule of law in NHRI’s work or served as a basis for some of their initiatives (Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Greece, Portugal, Slovakia, Ukraine). Some NHRIs indicated that the report generally helped the NHRI get more visibility (Georgia, Hungary) and also served to trigger follow-up inquiries on identified issues (Hungary) or improving cooperation with public authorities (Ukraine). 

A number of NHRIs across the region (see in particular reports on Albania, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Moldova, North Macedonia, Norway and Slovakia) stressed that impacts and follow-up initiatives were frustrated by the challenges posed by COVID-19.

NHRIs’ recommendations to increase impacts of joint reporting 

NHRIs were invited to formulate recommendations to ENNHRI and regional actors to further develop positive impacts from the joint rule of law reporting. 

NHRIs generally expressed appreciation for the work of ENNHRI in this area, and some encouraged ENNHRI to continue facilitating joint reporting (Cyprus, Hungary, Norway). Various NHRIs made general and concrete proposals to increase the impact of reporting in particular at the national level. Some general recommendations include developing capacity-building for NHRIs to better engage and follow up on regional rule of law processes (from ENNHRI members in Georgia and Slovakia), using the joint rule of law reporting exercise as a basis to enhance regional cooperation between NHRIs (from ENNHRI member in Serbia) and identify ENNHRI priorities (from ENNHRI member in Norway). Some NHRIs also made more concrete proposals such as developing guidelines or toolkit for NHRIs for instance for their engagement with the EU representation in the country (as proposed in particular by ENNHRI members in Georgia, Slovenia); developing model quantitative and qualitative indicators on human rights and rule of law to help NHRIs measure progress at national level (as suggested by ENNHRI member in Greece); further facilitating the sharing of best practices as well as analysing differences in NHRIs’ mandates and capacity to work on rule of law issues based on lessons learnt from reporting cycles (as suggested by ENNHRI member in Finland); publish an annual collation of NHRIs’ good practices regarding their legislative and judicial mandates (as suggested by ENNHRI member in Azerbaijan), sharing directly the rule of law report with state authorities, translated in national language to maximise its consideration and impact on the ground (as suggested by ENNHRI member in North Macedonia). 

Some ENNHRI members (in particular from Croatia, Georgia and Germany) underlined the importance for EU and regional actors to better value national rule of law discussions, in which NHRIs should be included. The NHRI in Germany called for a stronger and more visible role of the representations of the European Commission in member states and possible cooperation with NHRIs in this area (for example through public debates on rule of law issues, including on the basis of NHRIs’ reports), and stressed the importance for EU and regional bodies to expressly refer to relevant NHRI reports, including the ENNHRI Rule of Law Reports, when engaging with national governments or parliaments on rule of law issues. The institution in Kosovo* stressed the advantages of a consideration of the ENNHRI report by the European Commission in the context of the EU accession process.

Independent and effective NHRIs

Progress in NHRIs’ establishment and accreditation 

Support for the establishment and accreditation of NHRIs could be found throughout the region, including in countries taking steps towards creating new institutions or strengthening existing bodies to achieve A-status accreditation. 

In Sweden, the bill to establish an NHRI was submitted by the government to the Swedish Parliament and approved on 9 June 2021. The new institution is planned to start operations on 1 January 2022.In Belgium, the Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, created in 2019, progressed with appointing its Board and recruiting initial staff. While the Institute’s mandate is limited to federal and residual competences only, it intends to apply for international accreditation, and will seek cooperation with pre-existing Belgian bodies, including the B-status accredited institution, Unia. In the Czech Republic, a roundtable was organised in 2020 by relevant stakeholders, who reiterated their commitment towards having an accredited NHRI. In Italy, different stakeholders continued to encourage the establishment of an NHRI, and the Committee on Constitutional Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies adopted a unified text that will serve as a basis for the discussions on the establishment of the NHRI. In Iceland, the government has decided to appoint a ministerial Working Group to explore the current scenario and possible avenues towards the establishment of an NHRI. In Switzerland, the Commission for External Affairs adopted a text for a draft bill to be discussed at the Council of States. The text does not foresee monitoring powers for the new institution.

As an outcome of the SCA Session in December 2020 two institutions received A-status accreditation the Slovenian Human Rights Ombudsman was upgraded from B to A-status; and the Estonian Chancellor of Justice was granted A-status following its first accreditation. Moreover, the B-status institution in Cyprus is scheduled for review by the SCA in June 2021, while the B-status institution in Austria has applied for review of its accreditation status with the SCA. The A-status NHRI in Serbia saw its review of accreditation status deferred. 

Changes to the regulatory frameworks

While no major changes affected the national regulatory frameworks in which European NHRIs operate since the past year, some NHRIs in particular in EU Member States signalled relevant ongoing reforms. In Romania, the institution’s proposal to amend its obsolete legal framework was invalidated by the Constitutional Court, while the government has presented another legislative proposal to absorb the NHRI into the state authority combating discrimination, which causes serious concerns for the Institute and its staff. The NHRI in Finland is likely to be affected by a draft legislation aimed at clarifying the division of competences and tasks of the country’s supreme guardians of legality. 

Legislative initiatives aim at supporting the work of NHRIs in some non-EU countries. In Serbia, the NHRI is involved in the drafting of this new law which follows consultations with SIGMA experts (Support for Improvement in Governance and Management, a joint OECD/EU initiative). In Moldova however, while the draft bill aims at consolidating the independence of the institution, the NHRI’s recommendations are not being considered by the authorities. In Russia, the reform with take the form of a series of amendments to constitutional and regular federal laws. In Norway, the Parliament is discussing an evaluation to assess the NHRI’s functioning and, in Latvia, changes were made to the appointment process of the Head of the NHRI and to the length of its mandate as a follow-up to the latest SCA recommendations. 

A number of NHRIs reported about new specific mandates. In Azerbaijan, the NHRI mandate was strengthened by the establishment of a separate Department for the Protection of the Right to Information. In Croatia, the mandate for the protection of whistle-blowers recently granted to the NHRI was operationalized through new procedural rules, foreseeing, among others, the creation of a specific department devoted to this new task. In Hungary, the NHRI took over the role of two former institutions, one dealing with police complaints and the other with equal treatment. In Ireland, the NHRI was granted a new role as National Independent Rapporteur on trafficking of human beings. In Northern Ireland, a new mandate was conferred to the NHRI together with the equality commission to monitor the UK Government compliance with their commitments to ensure rights in the country following Brexit. Finally, in Turkey, the institution was vested with a new mandate as rapporteur for the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Being (GRETA). 

By contrast, other NHRIs exposed concerns related to their mandate. The NHRI in Slovenia deplores the lack of progress regarding the recognition of the NHRI as monitoring body under the UN Convention for the Protection of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), while the reporting institution from Belgium flags that the limited mandate of the institution restricts its actions regarding rule of law issues. The NHRI in Finland is concerned that, with the creation of new sectoral bodies with overlapping mandates, the human rights landscape is getting more fragmented, and the reduced resources available to each body may represent a challenge. Similarly, the NHRI in Moldova expresses serious concerns over the creation of new ombudsman for entrepreneurs’ rights, on which the NHRI was not consulted although it will be significantly impacted.

Enabling environment

As regards resources, some NHRIs (in Hungary, Ireland, North Macedonia and Northern Ireland) reported a significant increase of budget, also consequent to their new mandates. This allowed for a revalorisation of the staff, including an increase of salaries, in Hungary and hiring of new staff in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The institution in Turkey also beneficiated from additional staff and acquisition of a new building; these changes followed a capacity assessment program that started in 2019, spearheaded by UNDP and involving ENNHRI and OHCHR. The budget of other NHRIs increased as well, such as in Bulgaria and in Spain (in connection to a digital transformation project aiming to eliminate bureaucracy and streamline processes for citizens). Progress in the appointment of additional staff was also reported by NHRIs in Cyprus and Slovenia. In Slovenia, a budget reform to enhance NHRI’s independence from the government should also be triggered by a recent decision of the Constitutional Court. The NHRI in Norway is currently satisfied with its resources, however requested an increase to the Parliament to meet the increasing demand for the institution’s services.

On the contrary, several NHRIs continued to deplore a lack of sufficient resources. In Albania, the NHRI pointed that, in spite of some progress over the past years, the institution is still faced with limited human and financial capacities which affect the effective exercise of its mandate. Similarly, the NHRI in Luxembourg lacks resources to fulfil its task, such as monitoring the situation of people in closed institutions. In Serbia, the NHRI recently beneficiated from new recruitments but still operates in inadequate premises, as reported the NHRI in Croatia, which stressed the insufficient support following the earthquake that destroyed its offices in Zagreb. Concerns over the lack of sufficient resources were also raised by the NHRIs in Belgium, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Romania. In Moldova, while the NHRI agreed with the authorities to decrease its 2020 budget to reallocate to COVID-19 response, it is concerned that in 2021 this decrease might affect the institution’s financial independence.

Several NHRIs experience generally good cooperation with national authorities. This is the case for institutions in Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Kosovo*, North Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Norway, Serbia, Slovenia Spain and Turkey. Nevertheless, many NHRIs highlighted issues with the implementation of their recommendations. Follow-up by state authorities, notably regarding its timeliness, is reported as particularly flawed in Albania, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Kosovo*, North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine, and difficulties are also registered in Belgium and Luxembourg. A number of NHRIs stressed issues affecting the effectiveness of consultation processes, such as in Albania, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg and Slovakia. This includes the lack of regular consultations (Albania, Germany, Greece and Moldova – for instance recently on the creation of a new ombudsman) and short deadlines (Albania, Hungary). On the contrary, the NHRI in Norway acknowledges a good consultation framework on human rights impact assessment. Some NHRIs further reported about reduced access to information. This is the case, in particular as regards information concerning the treatment of irregular migrants, in Croatia as well as, especially in the context of the COVID-19 emergency, in Slovakia.

Some NHRIs continued to expose worrying threats to their independence. The situation has further deteriorated for the NHRI in Poland, where the very existence of the NHRI is threatened as no Commissioner was appointed since September 2020 despite some attempts, and the provisions on transitional arrangements have been found unconstitutional before the constitutional court. In Armenia, legislative amendments were discussed which seriously undermined the NHRI by transferring its staff back to a civil service regime, and abolishing the budgetary guarantee for the NHRI institutional independence – they were eventually withdrawn in 2020. Episodes of obstruction were reported by the NHRI in Slovakia, after its request for information about health care for persons other than in the context of COVID-19. In Georgia, the NHRI is targeted by public authorities in relation to the institution’s monitoring and reporting on the state’s management of penitentiary establishments. By contrast, as regards concerns reported in ENNHRI 2020 Rule of Law Report, some progress was registered in Cyprus, where an investigation by the Attorney General, after Auditor General’s attempt to investigate the way the NHRI exercises its powers, which the NHRI considered an interference with its independence, was eventually discontinued. In Greece, a recently enacted law, prompted by the NHRI’s proactive engagement, is meant to address some of the issues identified in the 2020 Rule of Law Report. The NHRI also informed of having been paid tribute by the President of the Republic for its contribution in promoting and protecting human rights in the country. 

A few NHRIs underlined developments undermining the human rights environment in the country, on which the institutions rely to operate. In Finland, the increasing questioning of values related to human rights and rule of law protection from some segments of society and some political actors was identified by the NHRI as one factor that may affect the enabling environment of democratic institutions meant to protect those values, including NHRIs. In Great Britain, the NHRI identified several recent regressive developments in the UK equality and human rights legal framework, including the exclusion of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights from domestic law as a result of Brexit.

Human rights defenders and civil society space

Several challenges continue to affect human rights defenders and the civil society space.

Several challenges continue to affect human rights defenders and the civil society space.

A number of NHRIs reported about laws and practices negatively affecting the operations of civil society organisations (CSOs). In Ireland and Germany, the advocacy role of CSOs remains negatively affected by existing rules (on political campaigning in Ireland, on charitable status in Germany), issues that recent legislatives initiatives in both countries failed to fully address. In Georgia, the NHRI underlined that the concept of HRD is still not defined by law. New developments are reported by the NHRI in Greece, where stricter administrative requirements were imposed for the operations of CSOs working with asylum seekers and migrants; and in Slovenia, where the NHRI relates about the debate around the eviction of a well-known collective of CSOs from their premises. In Cyprus, the NHRI provides explanations over the questioned de-registration of a high number of CSOs over the past year. 

Insufficient funding, and restrictions in relation to access to funding, are reported by NHRIs as a persisting challenge for CSOs. General concerns, exacerbated by the impact of the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak, are voiced by the NHRIs in Albania, Croatia and Ireland, which all called for increased state funding for CSOs. Discriminatory practices of public funding were exposed by the NHRI in Slovakia, affecting in particular progressive organisations working on gender equality. Restrictions on access to foreign funding continue being reported in Hungary, while the NHRI in Denmark drew attention to a new bill that, with a view to safeguarding democracy and fundamental rights, would restrict CSOs’ access to funding, in particular from foreign donations, in a manner which the NHRI considers overly vague and at risk of arbitrary decisions. 

CSOs’ participation in decision-making and their cooperation with state authorities is also said to be challenged in a number of member states. In Croatia, the NHRI repeated its recommendation to the government to adopt an action plan on civil society’s enabling environment, and reports difficulties for CSOs in accessing information about the treatment of irregular migrants and in being granted access to shelters and detention centres. The NHRI in Romania reports the government’s attempt to unduly influence the composition of the civil society dialogue council, while the NHRI in Slovenia reported new rules reducing CSOs’ participation in environmental impact assessments. The institution in Kosovo* stressed issues related to CSOs access to public information and participation.

In some countries, NHRIs also reported about attacks and threats targeting CSOs and human rights defenders (HRDs). Cases range from violent physical attacks (as reported in Serbia especially as regards LGBTI+ rights defenders), threats and hate speech (as reported specifically in Armenia), to public criticism of HRDs by the authorities (see reports on Belgium, Georgia and Moldova). In some countries, NHRIs point to a less favourable environment for HRDs and CSOs defending human rights (see in particular reports on Finland and Greece). Several NHRIs stressed in particular the fragile situation of those supporting LGBTI+ people (Georgia, Greece, Serbia) and migrants (Greece). Reports expose how these defenders are indeed increasingly subject to hate speech and attacks, which the public authorities often fail to effectively address. In France, the NHRI pointed to a worrying trend as it concerns the authorities’ measures targeting CSOs allegedly opposing the ‘Republican order’ or linked to radical Islamism. NHRIs in Albania and Kosovo*  stressed the fragile situation facing the civil society sector in the COVID-19 context (see also below).

Several NHRIs also report about restrictions to the exercise of civic freedoms and in particular freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. Several NHRIs drew attention to issues in the legislative framework. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the NHRI reported about disparities among regional legislations regulating public gatherings, while underlining several recent legislative initiatives on the issue. The NHRI adopted last year a special report on freedom of peaceful assembly. In France, two draft bills pose serious threats to civic space and the free exercise of freedom of assembly, notably through extended powers granted to the police. In Spain, no progress was made in reforming the so called “gag law” which negatively impacts the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom to peaceful assembly. Several NHRIs in other countries also drew attention to (disproportionate) restrictions of peaceful assemblies also in the context of measures taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, including in Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Russia and Slovenia. NHRIs in some countries particularly reported the disproportionate use of police powers towards peaceful protesters – including arbitrary detention (Albania, Russia) and episodes of police brutality (Bulgaria, Poland). The NHRI in Moldova stressed positive developments with a new law on CSOs and freedom of assembly, taking into account most recommendations by civil society. Similarly, the NHRI in Lithuania pointed at the country’s good rating by a prominent LGTBI+ rights NGO in terms of ensuring freedom of assembly and of expression for LGBTI+ people and rights defenders.

As regards relations between NHRIs and other HRDs and CSOs, most NHRIs stressed their investments in establishing good cooperation including in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Kosovo*, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Turkey. Such cooperation is also beneficial in view of joint efforts to raise awareness and promote a rule of law culture. For example, in Croatia, the NHRI took part in a conference on rule of law and human rights organised by a coalition of CSOs. 

Specific efforts were made by NHRIs to ensure better protection of HRDs in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Kosovo*, Moldova, Montenegro, Northern Ireland, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia and Serbia. NHRIs support and protect HRDs including through enhanced monitoring and targeted inquiries, recommendations to relevant authorities, capacity building, awareness raising, public statements, legal and political support and spaces for dialogue and information exchange. In Germany, the NHRI advised the Foreign Office in the development of a protection programme for HRDs, that was launched in 2020 and is expected to be further developed in 2021.

Checks and balances

NHRIs report diverse issues which continue to affect the system of checks and balances in enlargement countries.

Some NHRIs have reported a generally low level of trust in state authorities, in particular in Albania, Cyprus, Poland and Slovakia. NHRIs in Albania, Croatia, Denmark, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, the Netherlands and Slovenia stressed a recently decreased level of public trust. In some cases, such development was linked to the authorities’ management of the pandemic: lack of transparency of measures taken in Albania, debate around mink culling in Denmark and unclear criteria for the adoption of COVID-19 measures in Croatia. In Georgia, the trust in authorities was affected by the political crisis and protests that followed electoral shortcomings, in Montenegro the NHRI stressed an overall discontent at the slowness and inefficiency of state bodies from citizens willing to exercise their rights, while in Germany the authorities’ accountability is questioned in relation to structural racism within the police and the lack of independent police complaints bodies at the level of federal states. The NHRI in France reported a deteriorating confidence of the citizens in the police, which is being granted increasing powers. A generally good level of trust prevails in Finland and Norway.

Many NHRIs pointed at problematic issues concerning law-making, often in connection to the emergency situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Concerns relate to the use of accelerated legislative procedures particularly in Denmark, France, Greece and Slovakia. This has led to increasing powers of the executive as mentioned by the NHRI in Slovakia. The lack of proper consultations and impact assessment (especially of impacts on human rights), also partly resulting from expedited legislative procedures, has been reported by various NHRIs and namely in Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Moldova, Poland and Slovakia. In Croatia and Germany, reported issues seem to be more generalised and not necessarily linked to emergency law-making. NHRIs in Ireland, Slovenia and Ukraine further question the lack of disaggregated data to support relevant measures. In Greece, Hungary and Ireland NHRIs stressed the widespread use of executive decrees and regulations, which sometimes resulted in overregulation and poorly drafted decisions (as reported, respectively, in relation to Greece and Ireland). The NHRI in Luxembourg raised concerns about restrictions to human rights deriving from recommendations, bearing the risk of arbitrary decisions. The impact of reduced checks and balances and consultations in the process of law-making, in particular on vulnerable persons such as persons with disabilities, was underlined by NHRIs in Ireland and Luxembourg. On a more positive note, in Denmark, the NHRI reports that the extensive executive powers given to the Minister for Health in emergency COVID-19 legislation was mitigated as from February 2021 by the adoption of a new epidemics act which provides that some emergency measures taken by the executive branch in order to handle an epidemic can be vetoed by a parliamentary committee. 

Reduced parliamentary oversight was reported as one of the main challenges affecting law-making in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as indicated by NHRIs in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia and Spain. In some cases, such as in Croatia, the government’s decision not to activate the state of emergency was questioned, insofar as it could have strengthened the parliament’s say over measures restricting human rights and freedoms. Deficiencies in oversight over the executive were also reported beyond the pandemic context, for example in the Netherlands in connection with the ‘child benefit scandal’ case. 

As regards judicial oversight, the NHRI in Poland reflected how the serious threats affecting judicial independence in the country negatively impact on the national system of checks and balances. The NHRI also reported on lack of resources in relation to a new mandate to file extraordinary complaints to the Supreme Court against all final judgements of ordinary courts. Other NHRIs touched upon the lack of effectiveness in legality and constitutionality checks, for instance due to the absence of a Constitutional Court (Albania), issues with the implementation of the Constitutional Court’s judgments (Slovenia, Ukraine), or in Luxembourg where the NHRI pointed at practices undermining the role of the Council of State. Some NHRIs also reported positive developments. In Armenia, the Constitutional Court set a deadline for repealing provisions recognised as unconstitutional. In Slovakia, the NHRI stressed a positive change in the appointment system of Constitutional Court judges, aimed at preventing one political party from electing the majority of judges. The important role of the constitutional review of measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was highlighted in particular by NHRIs in Croatia and in Romania, as regards the judicial review exercised by Constitutional Courts, as well as in Finland, as regards the ex-ante review of draft laws submitted to the Parliament carried out by the constitutional law committee. 

Issues with the separation of powers were underlined by the NHRIs in Estonia, Georgia and Poland, mainly regarding independence and impartiality of judges. In Poland, the NHRI stressed the undue influence of legislative and executive powers over courts. In Kosovo*, two laws regulating the public service were questioned by the NHRI and found unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court as contrary to the separation of powers. The Institution in Turkey pointed to the existence of accountability tools, including an electronic public service tool for the use of the right to petition and information, created by the Presidential Communication Center. On the contrary, the NHRI in Bosnia and Herzegovina underlined the unsatisfactory system of inspections of administrative authorities. 

Some NHRIs also reported challenges in the implementation of judgments by supranational courts. The NHRI in Poland makes particular reference to the lack of implementation of judgments by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) concerning the government’s controversial reforms to the judiciary. The NHRI in Germany also draws attention to the possible impact of a recent ruling by the constitutional court on the implementation of CJEU judgments. The NHRI in Bulgaria advocated for the establishment of a national inter-institutional coordination council to monitor the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Other NHRIs indeed raised concerns about the failure to implement ECtHR judgments (Albania, Greece, Slovenia, Ukraine).

A number of NHRIs pointed at issues with the electoral system, including due to the COVID-19 situation and the holding of online elections (Bulgaria, Estonia, Kosovo*, Poland, Romania). General irregularities were reported in Moldova, and in Georgia where the NHRI underlined problems in organising fair elections as well as pressure on voters, observers and the media. More specifically, the NHRI in Serbia pointed to problems as regards the reasonable accommodation of the needs of persons with disabilities, and the NHRI in Northern Ireland initiated a judicial review of the election law which required the publication of the home address for candidates standing in local elections, exposing victims of domestic violence. This led to an amendment to the law removing the obligation, now entered into force. In Great Britain, the NHRI is concerned about whether the policy change to allow prisoners on temporary licence to vote meets the UK’s obligations under the ICCPR. This change followed the ECtHR ruling that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting was disproportionate and indiscriminate. The NHRI also underlined persisting issues with equal participation and representation in electoral processes in the UK, also in relation to a proposed bill establishing a legal requirement for photographic voter ID for participation in elections.

Difficulties in accessing public information were stressed by several NHRIs (Armenia, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo*, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Ukraine). Such issues represent the focus of a third of the complaints addressed to the NHRI in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2020, while in Kosovo* the NHRI reported issues either due to delays in responding to access to information requests or to the lack of justification when rejecting requests. In addition, the government has not yet appointed a Commissioner of the Agency for Information and Privacy to act on these issues. Other NHRIs underlined the inadequacy of the legislative framework (Moldova, Ukraine) and the worsening impact of COVID-19 context (Georgia, Moldova). In Armenia, the NHRI noted some steps taken in 2020 to improve the situation, however issues remain, especially for journalists and persons with disabilities.

Among the other issues affecting checks and balances, the NHRI in Germany stressed the need for a reform concerning the size of the Federal Parliament and the NHRI in Northern Ireland raised concerns over the new governmental approach announced by the UK to address the legacy of the past, backsliding on previous commitments.

The contribution of NHRIs in the national system of checks and balances is illustrated in the country reports by several examples. These include reviewing draft laws and addressing recommendations and advice to state authorities (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Slovenia and Turkey); litigation and triggering of judicial and constitutional review (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Kosovo*, Latvia, Northern Ireland, and Spain); organising trainings for state authorities and awareness raising initiatives (Finland, Greece and the Netherlands); supporting effective participation and holding of elections (Albania, Serbia); facilitating access to information and providing protection to whistle-blowers (Croatia and Hungary).

At the same time, a number of NHRIs report challenges affecting their role as part of the system of checks and balances. NHRIs in Greece and Slovakia mention a lack of cooperation and consultation, despite efforts to enhance cooperation in Greece. In Poland, the NHRI points at a particularly difficult situation, where the institution’s recommendations are said to be ignored by the authorities, and its positions not considered by the courts. The Croatian NHRI reported a lack of direct access to information on the treatment of irregular migrants. Some NHRIs underlined the need for additional resources to support the NHRIs’ role in the system of checks and balances, for instance to ensure effective monitoring and reporting (Finland, Germany), or for training activities (the Netherlands). The Institution in Turkey reported challenges in exercising its role as the Institution’s complaint mechanism superposes with a similar one of another institution, potentially altering its efficiency.

Functioning of justice systems

Generalised deficiencies affecting justice systems were underlined by many NHRIs across the region. A general dissatisfaction of citizens is reported in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Poland and Serbia. In Croatia, the NHRI reports an increase in complaints related to the functioning of the justice system compared to previous years, in particular on the conduct of judges and of proceedings, while in North Macedonia, the NHRI stresses the need for a reform of the judiciary to address persisting issues such as the lack of transparency, an issue underlined as well by NHRIs in Moldova, Slovenia and Ukraine. The NHRI in France draws attention to two worrying judicial reforms affecting respectively the juvenile criminal justice system and the treatment of persons convicted of acts of terrorism. In Albania, which is entering the fourth year of its justice system reform, the progress made is considered by the NHRI unsatisfactory, with the situation being also aggravated by the pandemic which led to the suspension of court activity.

On the other hand, efforts to improve the general functioning of justice systems were reported. Ongoing reforms were stressed in Moldova where a promising draft law on the justice sector has been adopted, in Northern Ireland where a review of administrative law and Human rights Act is ongoing, and in Slovakia where major reforms currently aim at increasing the independence and accountability of judges, improve the appointment and functioning of the Judicial Council, create a new Supreme Administrative Court and improve geographical distribution and access to courts. Other positive developments were underlined for instance by the NHRI in Albania on the quality of work on the administration of justice, and in relation to the High Court and the Constitutional Court which have begun to partially exercise their functions after several years without functioning.

A few NHRIs reported concerns over the independence of the judiciary, such as in Moldova. The case of Poland remains particularly worrying, with the NHRI reporting that the independence of the judiciary has continued to severely deteriorate over the past year, also due to the enactment of the so-called ‘muzzle law’, leading to a further erosion of the separation of powers. In Estonia, the NHRI pointed with concern at the fact that the Ministry of Justice can request judges to amend information included in the courts’ information system – what would grant the Ministry a certain extent of supervisory power over courts. Issues concerning the system for the appointment of judges, in particular of the Supreme Court, were raised by the NHRIs in Georgia and in Slovenia, with little progress made to enact a reform. By contrast, efforts to modernise the appointment procedures are signalled by the NHRI in Ireland. In Hungary, the NHRI informs that the functioning of the National Judicial Council is currently under constitutional review. A few NHRIs also underlined the system’s failure to ensure independent and effective investigations, regarding past human rights violations in Ireland, or regarding cases of assault and harassment of journalists in Kosovo*.

Concerns over the insufficient resources for a good administration of justice were raised by NHRIs in Albania, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland and Slovenia. Excessive length of proceedings remains a widespread concern, aggravated by the COVID-19 context, as reported by NHRIs in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Ireland, Kosovo*, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia and Serbia. Some progress is reported in Slovenia, where the NHRI affirms that excessive delays in judicial proceedings are no longer a systemic problem, and in Russia where legal amendments improved the situation for criminal proceedings. Concerns over the lack of enforcement of court decisions are shared by the NHRIs in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Portugal and Ukraine, where a draft action plan is expected to address the issue. Erosion of separation of powers was underlined by the NHRIs in Estonia, Georgia and Poland, mainly regarding independence and impartiality of judges.

NHRIs variably report on challenges affecting the right to access to a court. The NHRI in Bulgaria stresses the urgent need to develop the e-justice system. Issues affecting the legal aid system, including delays in legal aid procedures and the difficult financial position of certain free legal aid providers, such as CSOs and legal clinics, continue to be reported by NHRIs in Albania, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Great Britain, Ireland, Moldova, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovenia. A proposal from the Serbian NHRI to include LGBTI+ people as vulnerable beneficiaries for legal aid (as particularly exposed to threats and hate crimes) was not considered by the authorities, however some recommendations from the Albanian NHRI were taken in consideration and implemented in 2020. Some progress was also reported by the institution in Belgium, which informed about changes made to raise the income threshold to access legal aid. An audit to evaluate the existing system triggered by the government, and involving the participation of the NHRI, is ongoing in Denmark and in Norway. In Hungary, the NHRI reports about a draft law on administrative proceedings aimed at addressing the lack of legal remedy against certain courts’ decisions

NHRIs in Georgia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine express concern over the lack of respect of fair trial rights. They stressed issues related in particular to criminal proceedings: rights of suspects and accused especially in the context of pre-trial detention (the Netherlands, Ukraine), victim’s rights (Montenegro), unsatisfactory legal regime for foreigners (Moldova). ENNHRI members in Belgium, Germany, Great Britain and Moldova raise concerns about obstacles to access to justice for certain vulnerable groups, and in particular persons with disabilities, persons living in poverty, older persons, women victims of gender-based violence and victims of racist violence. The NHRI in Great Britain particularly underlined the persisting inadequacy of the justice system responses to violence against women and girls.

Issues with the juvenile justice framework were underlined by several NHRIs. While the NHRI in France expressed concerns over a recent legal reform, NHRIs in Albania, Georgia, Great Britain and Kosovo* call for better consideration and protection of juveniles in the justice system, including of those in detention. 

NHRIs’ contributions provide several examples illustrating the role of NHRIs in contributing to promote fair and effective justice. These go from statements, reports and recommendations on necessary improvements to the legal framework (see examples from NHRIs in Armenia, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Ireland, Kosovo*, Moldova, Northern Ireland, Norway, Russia and Ukraine); reporting to international bodies (Norway); the handling of complaints (Albania, Belgium, Croatia, Portugal, Slovenia) and follow-up actions to uphold the right to good administration in the delivery of justice (such as disciplinary proceedings against judges by the NHRI in Estonia); the provision of legal advice as well as litigation of key cases (Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Denmark, Georgia, Ireland and Kosovo*); research, awareness raising and training activities (Lithuania – in particular as regards access to justice in relation to environmental protection, Romania, Russia, Finland –also highlighting specific initiatives addressed at improving access to justice for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and persons with disabilities).

Media pluralism and freedom of expression

Issues affecting the independence and pluralism of media and the framework for the protection of media and journalists were reported by NHRIs in several countries.

A worrying trend regarding journalists’ safety is reported by NHRIs in several countries (including Croatia, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine). Several NHRIs underlined the aggravated situation in COVID-19 context (Germany, Moldova, Ukraine). While most cases involve threats, intimidation, harassment and hate speech, sometimes gender-based (Finland, Serbia), some episodes also relate to violent physical attacks such as reported by the NHRIs in Croatia, Kosovo*, Montenegro, Poland and Serbia. Concerns about arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of journalists by law enforcement authorities were shared by NHRIs in Poland, Russia and Slovakia, and about arbitrary dismissals of public television journalists by the NHRI in Georgia. The NHRI in Serbia stressed a significant aggravation of the situation compared to 2019, the NHRI in Russia stressed the problematic situation of bloggers as they are not protected by journalists’ legal status, and the NHRI in Montenegro raised concerns over police attitude towards journalists. The Institution in Kosovo* furthermore underlined the general impunity in above mentioned cases. 

Some NHRIs reported about restricted access for journalists (Ukraine) including access to institutional premises (Bulgaria, Poland), access to sensitive sites – namely refugee camps (France), access to public information (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova). Some NHRIs reported of journalists targeted by abusive lawsuits (see reports on Bulgaria and Croatia). In Montenegro, the NHRI also drew attention to the precarious working conditions journalists find themselves in, a situation which worsened as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some NHRIs however also reported about positive developments such as a draft law on offenses against journalists (Ukraine) or the introduction of a new criminal offence of coercion against a person who performs activities of public interest or in the public service which includes journalists (Croatia).

A number of NHRIs have reported on issues relating to media pluralism (Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo* and Ukraine). In some cases, these are linked to media concentration, as reported by the NHRI in Poland, which informs about the ongoing acquisition of an important national media by a state-controlled oil company, which would grant state authorities a dominant position in the media market. Minor concerns on media concentration were also voiced by the NHRI in Finland, although the situation regarding media independence and pluralism there remains overall good and stable. Several NHRIs reported issues affecting media independence (Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Slovenia and Albania – especially of the Audiovisual Media Authority), including threats and attacks (Georgia), poor editorial autonomy and lack of transparency in media ownership (Greece, Moldova). Other voiced concerns over the effectiveness of the legal framework to ensure media diversity (Hungary) and discriminatory access to media, in particular affecting minorities (Greece, Hungary). Draft laws on media are pending in Ukraine and in Armenia – to combat fake information, however the NHRI fears the text contains non-systemic solutions that may pose additional problems to the media sector and the freedom of speech.

Economic pressure is also reported by some NHRIs as affecting the media sector. This was exacerbated by the pandemic, as reported by NHRIs in Croatia and Finland. Dedicated financial support for media workers was offered by the Croatian Ministry of Culture and Media. By contrast, the NHRI in Poland warns that a new tax levied on incomes from advertisements, ostensibly presented by the government as a necessary measure to counter economic recession, will have a serious impact on small media enterprises. 

At the same time, issues around hate speech in the media were also reported on by a number of NHRIs (Albania, Finland, Ireland, Kosovo*, Moldova, Serbia and Slovenia), especially targeting female journalists and politicians in Finland and Serbia. In Moldova, a draft law on hate speech in currently pending, while in Croatia, a draft law on electronic media was recently proposed – welcomed by the NHRI which however expresses concerns over its insufficiency to fight against illegal content on social media, including hate speech. Freedom of expression online was also underlined as a concern by the NHRI in Albania and Great Britain, where the institution expressed concerns over the government’s proposals to improve online safety, risking infringing individuals’ freedom of expression. The NHRI in Hungary stressed the urgency to adapt the legislation to the rapid rise of social networks and platforms. The Hungarian NHRI further points to the need to invest more in media education, including to better protect children. In this respect, on a positive note, the NHRI in Ireland informs about the creation of an online safety commissioner. NHRIs are active in prompting better responses to hate speech, including a more effective monitoring and reporting framework, as recommended by the NHRI in Bulgaria, or a strengthened and modernised code of professional ethics for media, as called for by the NHRI in Ireland.

A number of country reports highlight the role of NHRIs in promoting free, balanced and pluralistic media, especially through monitoring and recommendations to public authorities, including for legal amendments (Azerbaijan, Albania, Georgia, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and Slovenia), litigation (Georgia, Poland) as well as awareness raising and public education (Finland, Lithuania). The NHRI in Azerbaijan established a new department for the protection of the right to Information and investigates cases related to journalists, and the NHRI in North Macedonia signed a MoU with journalists’ association to strengthen their protection.

Corruption 

ENNHRI members in some states report high levels of corruption, including Albania, Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain – with the pandemic context said to create, in certain cases (see report on Albania and Moldova in particular), a more favourable ground for increased corruption due to lack of transparency and accountability, which also led, as reported for example in Moldova, to episodes of intimidation of health workers exposing wrongdoings and mismanagement.

Among those ENNHRI members which included information on the regulatory framework to combat corruption, most pointed to an inadequate legal framework and insufficient efforts to investigate and prosecute cases (see in particular reports on Albania, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia), while some mentioned recent improvements in legislation and its implementation (in Azerbaijan, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania). Some progress is reported in a number of states on legislation on whistleblowers protection, including in Croatia, Kosovo* and Romania, while elsewhere ENNHRI members point to delays in enacting an adequate regulatory framework (such as in Albania, Greece, Slovakia and Slovenia), gaps and lack of clarity of existing rules (such as in Hungary) or lack of awareness of rights and obligations (see for example report on Croatia).

A number of country reports showcase the role NHRIs can play in contributing to the effective prevention and fight against corruption. Reference goes, for example, to NHRIs’ role in carrying out investigations and referring identified problematic practices to the competent anti-corruption bodies (Lithuania); advising the government on improving the legal and regulatory anticorruption framework, as illustrated in the report on Estonia; in monitoring the transparency of public procurement procedures, as reported by the NHRI in Albania or more generally investigating corruptions related complaints, as in North Macedonia; or in contributing to the effective implementation of rules on whistle-blowers protection, as illustrated in the reports on Croatia and Moldova. 

Systemic human rights issues affecting the national rule of law environment 

Some ENNHRI members pointed at a number of systemic human rights issues which are seen as affecting the national rule of law environment.

The NHRI in Cyprus pointed at serious deficiencies in safeguarding and respecting the human rights of migrants, while the NHRI in Greece raised concern over the growing racist rhetoric, the worrying incidence of racist attacks and delays in their investigation and prosecution. Hate speech and hate crime are also mentioned as a systemic issue by the NHRI in Serbia, specifically affecting LGBTI+ people.

The inadequacy of the prison system and the respect of the rights of detained persons are mentioned as a particularly pressing challenge by the NHRI in Russia.

The NHRI in Poland reported that the lack of independence of Constitutional Courts limits the NHRI’s ability to challenge legislation and practices violating human rights – which is seen as particularly disturbing in the light of reported human rights violations, in particular by police, during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The NHRI in Finland underlined its efforts to promote a better awareness on human rights, such as through training and public education activities, as a means to reinforce the national rule of law environment.  

Impact of measures taken in response to COVID-19 on the national Rule of Law environment 

Reports from ENNHRI members from across Europe continued to stress the severe impact of COVID-19 on their countries’ rule of law environment.

NHRIs raised concerns in particular with respect to challenges posed to the national systems of checks and balances during emergency regimes, due to the weakening of oversight by national parliaments and other actors including NHRIs on government’s law and policy making as well as reduced space for debate and consultations, in a context where fast-track and accelerated procedures have been routinely used. NHRIs noted how this led to unclear and poor-quality decisions (see in particular reports on Ireland, Slovenia and Spain), including inadequate impact assessments especially as regards human rights (see the NHRI’s remarks in the report on Finland), a lack of publicity and transparency (as reported with respect to Albania, Austria, Belgium, Georgia) and legal uncertainty (as in Hungary due to the possibility to derogate to existing laws by government decree or in Luxembourg). In some states, judicial review of these emergency acts was said to be insufficient (see for example reports on Georgia and Greece) or subject to pressure (as reported with respect to Luxembourg), while in others NHRIs commended the role of constitutional courts in promptly assessing the legality of government’s decisions (see reports on Austria and Romania). In quite a few countries, NHRIs underlined issues as regards the existence of a sufficiently strong legal framework and legal basis governing the adoption of emergency acts restricting people’s liberties, such as in Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. Elsewhere, NHRIs pointed to efforts to strengthen constitutional safeguards and guarantees to ensure a better oversight of government’s action (see for example reports on Denmark, Northern Ireland and Slovenia), including through the formal notification of derogation from human rights obligations under the European Convention on Huan Rights (as reported for Albania).

A number of NHRIs also stressed a more general impact of COVID-19 on the democratic process, including challenges to the holding of elections according to international standards (Hungary, Kosovo*, Romania, Poland), changes to the electoral system (Hungary, Poland) and consequences on decision-making at local level (Hungary, Estonia).

Transparency and access to information, including for media, civil society and vulnerable citizens including persons with disabilities, was also said to be greatly challenged during the COVID-19 emergency, as reported in detail by ENNHRI members in Albania, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Poland and Romania. Some NHRIs also expressed concerns about privacy and data protection issues in relation to quarantine measures, surveillance, tracing apps and data disclosures (see in particular reports on Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine). At the same time, NHRIs in some countries, such as Latvia and Slovakia, pointed to initiatives to fight against disinformation and fake news

The negative impact of COVID-19 and measures taken to address it on civic space, including the enjoyment of civic freedoms and the work of civil society organisations, was underlined by many ENNHRI members. Issues raised included the severe restrictions imposed on the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly (see in particular reports on Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Northern Ireland, Poland, Romania), which in some cases (as in Poland) led to violent police interventions; restrictions on freedom of expression and of the media (as illustrated for example in the report on Croatia and Moldova); and challenges to freedom of association, in particular due to obstacles to gathering in associations (see report on Belgium) but also the financial impact of the crisis on associations and the lack of adequate financial support from the state (see reports on Albania and Croatia). 

In a majority of states, the measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19 also had a severe impact on the functioning of justice systems. The use of remote hearings represented a challenge for the respect of the right to a fair trial, especially in criminal proceedings (as reported for example by NHRIs in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Greece, Ireland, Serbia), while the suspension of court activity led to a certain uncertainty and a somewhat arbitrary handling of cases (see report on Belgium, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovenia). In other cases, ENNHRI members reported a general inefficiency and overburdening of the justice system (as in Albania, Kosovo*, Moldova and Norway).

In terms of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and of measures taken to address it on human rights, many ENNHRI members expressed concerns over long-term implications which risk to exacerbate inequalities and impinge on the rights of persons in vulnerable situations. This includes in particular persons in a situation of poverty and/or homelessness (as reported in Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Hungary, Kosovo*, Spain), persons with disabilities (Azerbaijan, Belgium, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Hungary, Kosovo*, Ireland, Latvia, Northern Ireland, Romania), ethnic minorities and in particular Roma (Croatia, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine), the elderly (Albania, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Croatia, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Romania), people in detention and other closed facilities (Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Portugal, Slovenia, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine). 

NHRIs also underlined the particularly severe impact of the crisis on women (Belgium, Czech Republic, Romania, Ukraine) as well as youth and children (Albania, Belgium, Great Britain, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Ukraine), also as regards the rise in domestic violence and the challenges to effectively address it (see in particular reports on Albania, Armenia, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Kosovo*, Lithuania, Ukraine).  As regards children, ENNHRI members also highlighted the crisis’ consequences on the enjoyment of the right to education, often in connection with challenges linked to distance learning especially for children in a vulnerable socio-economic situation or living in rural or marginalised areas (see reports on Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Estonia, Kosovo*, Hungary, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine). NHRIs also drew attention to the situation of migrants and people on the move (Belgium, Czech Republic, Netherlands), while in a number of states NHRIs expressed concern over disproportionate restrictions on free movement and access to the national territory (see reports on Albania, Russia and Ukraine).

Reports by ENNHRI members illustrate the important role that NHRIs play in monitoring and advising on governments’ responses to the crisis from a human rights perspective, and in helping to address the challenges and the consequences of the crisis. This has ranged from intense involvement in the legislative debate on the constitutionality of the emergency regime (as in Denmark, Estonia and Slovenia), to specific interventions, thematic reports and targeted cooperation with state authorities to help better protect the rights of people in vulnerable situations and mitigate the challenges brought by the crisis (see for example reports on Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Northern Ireland, Moldova, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Russia), as well as efforts to facilitate citizens outreach, raise awareness and provide reliable information to the public about the pandemic and its handling (see examples in reports on Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia). A number of NHRIs set up specific monitoring mechanisms on the COVID-19 impact on human rights or engaged in comprehensive research which led to dedicated reports, guidelines as well as trainings for state officials (see for example in Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, Romania, Russia, Turkey).

At the same time, ENNHRI members also stressed how the crisis also impacted their institutions’ functioning. Concerns are raised in particular in terms of challenges and delays in receiving and handling citizens’ requests and complaints (Austria, Azerbaijan, Kosovo*, Netherlands, Slovakia), ensuring staff safety (as reported for Armenia), and as regards the lack of adequate resources against the background of an increase of workload (as reported for Luxembourg). Many NHRIs pointed to difficulties in carrying out their functions as National Preventive Mechanisms and conducting similar on-site monitoring and interventions (see in particular reports on Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Kosovo*, Lithuania), while others expressed satisfaction with remote inspections (see reports on Albania, Austria, Moldova, Turkey) or managed to keep or resume key monitoring functions subject to the necessary adaptations and safety measures (Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine). Nonetheless, NHRIs generally managed to adapt to the challenging circumstances to preserve their efficiency and thus be able to continue carrying out their mandates effectively, including by enhancing their online and remote activities (see for example in Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Lithuania, Northern Ireland, Poland, Romania, Slovenia) and by reorganising, and increasing where possible, staff and resources (as in Albania, Slovenia).