By working together with our regional and international partners, we can help to ensure complementarity of activities and maximise the impacts of our efforts to promote and protect human rights across Europe. We have participation rights before various fora of European-level human rights mechanisms and facilitate European NHRIs’ engagement with these mechanisms, providing inputs from a regional perspective by bringing together relevant information from NHRIs at the national level. We also communicate key developments at the European level to our members to assist in the smooth functioning of the European human rights framework.
All Council of Europe member states are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention), a treaty designed to protect civil and political rights in wider Europe. The European Court of Human Rights (the Court), an international court set up in 1959, rules on violations of the rights and principles set out in the Convention.
Implementation of the Convention
NHRIs are recognised as key stakeholders for ensuring the effective implementation of the Convention and European Court of Human Rights judgments. They have a unique overview of the needs and challenges to implementation of human rights standards within a country, as well as the authority and mandate to engage with their state party. NHRIs are therefore ideally placed to advise states on effective compliance with judgments, and to provide independent information and views to the Committee of Ministers on progress.
Through our Legal Working Group, we submit third-party interventions (amicus curiae) before the Court in relation to cases that have a regional significance. We also liaise with the Court Registry, which provides legal and administrative support to the Court in the exercise of its judicial functions, and are represented at the opening of the Court.
The European Social Charter
NHRIs support the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) to monitor the implementation of the economic and social rights enshrined in the European Social Charter. As outlined in Council of Europe guidance, NHRIs engage with the ECSR through both the reporting systems and the collective complaint procedure within the European Social Charter. As bridge builders between governments and civil society, NHRIs are ideally placed to provide key evidence and data to assess possible violations of the Charter on the ground.
Following the Council of Europe’s historic Fourth Summit of heads of state and government, Member States adopted the Reykjavik Declaration on the future of the Council of Europe. In the Declaration, heads of states and governments have recognised NHRIs as an integral part of the future of the Council of Europe. Moreover, the Declaration has recognised NHRIs’ key role in monitoring compliance with the Convention and judgments from the Court, as well as in protecting the environment and human rights.
The Council of Europe Recommendation on the development of effective, pluralist and independent NHRIs (2021)
The Council of Europe Recommendation 2021/1 on NHRIs puts in place the gold standard for strong, pluralist and independent NHRIs in Europe and complements the global UN Paris Principles on NHRIs. The Recommendation also represents a major step for further embedding NHRIs in the promotion and protection of human rights in Europe, including through effective cooperation with the Council of Europe. To ensure that the principles set out are implemented in relevant domestic laws and practices, ENNHRI has developed a baseline study to advance the Recommendation’s implementation.
Contributing to the development of standards
We have permanent observer status at the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH). The CDDH conducts the intergovernmental work of the Council of Europe in the human rights field, while advising and giving its legal expertise to the Committee of Ministers.
We participate in meetings of the CDDH and its subordinate bodies and have inputted in various areas, including human rights and the environment, human rights in situations of crisis, and the reform of the Court.
We also have observer status at the Council of Europe’s Committee of Artificial Intelligence (CAI), where we engage on the draft Convention on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.
Work with Council of Europe independent bodies
NHRIs work with at least 13 different Council of Europe bodies. They provide them with information independent from government and follow up on the outcomes of Council of Europe procedures at domestic level. Among other bodies, NHRIs interact with the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the Venice Commission and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
Commissioner for Human Rights
We have a close working relationship with the Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office. The Commissioner has organised several roundtables for European NHRIs and liaises with us on various geographic and thematic human rights issues in Europe. The Commissioner also closely engages with NHRIs on country-specific visits and reports.
Members of the European Parliament work within several specialised committees and subcommittees, including the Committee on Human Rights of the European Parliament (DROI) and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). We participate in these committees’ hearings and discussions on human rights issues to ensure that the expertise of NHRIs is taken into account.
- The LIBE Committee is responsible for the vast majority of the legislation and democratic oversight of Justice and Home Affairs policies. While doing so, it ensures the full respect of both the Charter of Fundamental Rights within the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the strengthening of European citizenship.
- The DROI Committee aims to ensure that human rights are at the forefront of European foreign policy, while working to mainstream human rights across all policy areas. The committee may adopt reports and resolutions, thus contributing to the international debate on subjects such as the death penalty, torture or the fight against impunity.
We have several links with the European Commission, in particular with the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers (DG JUST), Directorate-General for International Co-operation and Development (DG DEVCO), the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) and the Directorate-General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR). Since 2020, ENNHRI has developed joint annual rule of law reporting from NHRIs. This is submitted to regional counterparts, including the Commission, to feed into their monitoring and advancing of EU values and rights at the national level.
Under its Justice programme, DG JUST provides a framework for mutual learning, exchange of good practices and cooperation. This includes an operational grant for ENNHRI. The objectives of the grant are, among others:
- Mutual learning and spread of good practice among our members in relation to European law and policy, and their national application
- Analysis and debate of European law and policy developments relevant to ENNHRI and their application at national level
- NHRI input to European activities in relation to fundamental rights
EU Agency for Fundamental Rights
The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which was established to undertake research and data collection and provide expert advice to the EU and its Member States on fundamental rights, is mandated to cooperate with the full spectrum of domestic human rights bodies. It has taken steps to integrate NHRIs into its activities, such as through its research on NHRIs and by convening meetings of EU NHRIs, national equality bodies and Ombuds institutions to promote coordination, peer exchange and strategic joint actions at the EU level.
FRA interacts with NHRIs regularly concerning the implementation of the EU Charter, advancing the rule of law in the EU, and in its annual planning of activities and programmes. It has the mandate to cooperate with ‘public bodies competent in the field of fundamental rights in the Member States, including national human rights institutions.’
FRA has published comprehensive reports on NHRIs in the EU as well as the Republic of North Macedonia, the Republic of Serbia, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The report explores relevant developments, challenges to NHRIs’ effectiveness and ways to maximise their impact.
ENNHRI is currently working on the FRA-led and EEA Norway grants-funded project on supporting National Human Rights Institutions in monitoring fundamental rights and the fundamental rights aspects of the rule of law. This aims to strengthen NHRIs’ role in applying the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights at the national level in seven EU Member States.
European External Action Service
We work with our partners at the European External Action Service to strengthen and raise the visibility of NHRIs outside of the EU. This includes engagement with the following actors and policy instruments:
- The EU Special Representative for Human Rights helps make EU policy on human rights in non-EU countries more effective, coherent and visible.
- Through the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), the EU supports NHRIs worldwide to strengthen their role as vital actors to promote and protect human rights in line with the UN Paris Principles.
- The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024) provides an agreed basis for a collective effort by both EU countries and EU institutions, stating, among others, the need to “support independent national human rights institutions […], in line with the Paris […] Principles, and engage with them including in the context of human rights dialogues.”
Council of the European Union
We participate in meetings held by the Human Rights Working Group of the Council of the EU (COHOM), as well as the Working Party on Fundamental Rights, Citizens Rights and Free Movement of Persons (FREMP). COHOM is responsible for human rights issues in the EU’s external relations. It is composed of human rights experts from Member States and the European Commission. COHOM’s meetings cover the various aspects of the EU’s human rights policy, such as action in international fora, dialogues with third countries, thematic issues and mainstreaming. FREMP is responsible for issues related to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, and with negotiations in respect to EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Working Party is also responsible for preparatory work in the legislative procedures of the Council; for all matters related to the promotion of fundamental rights in the EU; as well as for developing follow-up reports and the annual report on the activities of the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
The importance of NHRIs for the human rights architecture has been recognised in commitments of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In Copenhagen in 1990, participating States pledged to “…facilitate the establishment and strengthening of independent national institutions in the area of human rights and the rule of law.”
At its Human Dimension Implementation Meetings, the OSCE invites European NHRIs to speak on the progress of the implementation of the OSCE’s Human Dimension Commitments. In addition, ENNHRI and European NHRIs participate in the Human Dimension Seminars and Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings, which address specific challenges to and opportunities for the promotion and protection of human rights. The 2015 OSCE Human Dimension Seminar, under the Serbian Chairmanship, was dedicated to NHRIs and their role in promoting and protecting human rights, including through the implementation of the OSCE Human Dimension Commitments.
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) provides support, assistance and expertise to participating States and civil society to promote democracy, the rule of law, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination. ODIHR seeks to strengthen the capacity of NHRIs in the OSCE region. It has stated that “active support for the establishment of strong and independent NHRIs, as well as building capacity of existing institutions, is instrumental for the implementation of the OSCE Human Dimension Commitments.”
Since 2014, we have collaborated with ODIHR on the annual NHRI Academy. This provides capacity building for NHRI staff in both the key methodologies and characteristics of NHRIs and how NHRIs can address key human rights challenges. It also serves as a forum for good practice exchange and networking among NHRIs.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) forms part of the UN Secretariat and has a unique mandate from the international community to promote and protect all human rights. Strengthening international human rights mechanisms is one of OHCHR’s main priorities.
OHCHR’s National Institutions and Regional Mechanisms Unit supports the establishment and strengthening of NHRIs. It works closely with NHRIs to support them in the implementation of their broad mandates to promote and protect human rights. It also acts as the Secretariat to the GANHRI Sub-Committee on Accreditaton.
In accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 5/1, NHRIs with A-status accreditation, GANHRI and the regional networks of NHRIs (speaking on behalf of A-status members) are entitled to participate in, make an oral statement at, or submit written documentation (such as statements, reports and policy papers) to the UN Human Rights Council.
OHCHR Regional Office for Europe
The OHCHR Regional Office for Europe works to facilitate the integration of the UN’s human rights standards at EU level, with the joint goal of helping address human rights challenges in Europe. It also seeks to ensure the integration of the UN’s human rights perspective in external EU policies and activities. We work closely with the OHCHR Regional Office for Europe by collaborating on thematic conferences and projects and by sharing information on issues in our shared geographic remit.
United Nations Development Programme
The mission of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is to help achieve the eradication of poverty and the reduction of inequalities and exclusion. Thus, among other things, UNDP works on protecting the rule of law, justice, security and human rights.
UNDP supports and collaborates with NHRIs in the following areas:
- addressing institutional, architectural and operational challenges faced by NHRIs;
- NHRIs and democratic governance;
- business and human rights;
- information and knowledge management;
- the Universal Periodic Review process, Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures;
- the consolidation of the Capacity Assessment and Gap Analysis methodologies;
- the role of NHRIs in conflict and post-conflict situations.
Tripartite Partnership of GANHRI, UNDP and OHCHR
The strategic Tripartite Partnership between GANHRI, OHCHR and UNDP – in support of NHRIs worldwide – aims to better coordinate and leverage knowledge, expertise and capacity to strengthen the effectiveness of NHRIs. This strategic partnership has enabled the UN system to provide more efficient and effective support to NHRIs. It has also been recognised by the UN Secretary General and the General Assembly as a good practice on the way the development pillar can work with the human rights pillar and advance efforts toward peace and security.
NHRIs bridge the gap between the state and civil society. We therefore encourage our members to develop partnerships at national, regional and international levels with civil society – in line with the UN Paris Principles.
We support constructive working relations between our members and non-governmental organisations by:
- Informing of the role of NHRIs
- Identifying current and concrete areas of cooperation and collaboration
- Strengthening and promoting information exchange
We have established strong working relationships with a variety of NGOs and other partners from civil society, including the following:
- A11 Initiative
- AGE Platform
- Amnesty International
- Centre for Economic and Social Rights
- Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
- Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)
- European Civic Forum
- European Council on Refugees and Exiles
- European Disability Forum
- European Implementation Network (EIN)
- European Network on Statelessness
- Front Line Defenders
- International Commission of Jurists
- Protection International
We work closely with other networks of national bodies working on human rights throughout Europe in order to share information, to ensure our actions are complementary, and to maximise impact. As our membership overlaps with other networks, we communicate with their secretariats to ensure coordination.
We collaborate with the following networks:
Equinet, the European Network of Equality Bodies
Equinet is a membership organisation bringing together 47 equality bodies across Europe. Equinet promotes equality in Europe by supporting and enabling the work of national equality bodies. It supports them to be independent and effective catalysts for more equal societies.
European Network of Ombudsmen
The European Network of Ombudsmen connects the European Ombudsman, national and regional ombudsmen with the aim of ensuring complainants can get help at the appropriate level. The network helps share information about EU law and its impact in EU Member States. It facilitates cooperation between ombudsmen, with a view to safeguarding the rights of EU citizens and individuals under EU law.
International Ombudsman Institute
The International Ombudsman Institute is a global organisation for the cooperation of more than 200 independent ombudsman institutions operating on a local, regional and national level from more than 100 countries worldwide.