Caroline Fennell
30 Mar 2022

“We need NHRIs, empowered and working together” – ENNHRI’s Chair reflects on three-year term

Before the Irish Human Rights Commission’s term as ENNHRI Chair concludes tomorrow, Professor Caroline Fennell – its ENNHRI Board representative – looks back at the last three years. How has the network developed? What were the highlights and challenges? How should we look towards the future? She reflects below.

After a wonderful three years, the time of the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHREC) as ENNHRI Chair is drawing to a close. It has been an honour for IHREC, for former Chief Commissioner Emily Logan, and for myself as Commissioner to serve as ENNHRI representatives.

We can look back with great pride at the network’s growth and development, how NHRIs have come together to protect and promote the rights of people across Europe, and what we have achieved in so doing.

NHRIs across Europe continued to strengthen: three more ENNHRI members achieved A-status; twelve were re-accredited with A-status; and all institutions received extensive support in the accreditation process. The regional recognition of NHRIs as crucial human rights actors and partners also reached new heights, culminating in the landmark Council of Europe Recommendation.

There was also important work across crucial human rights topics.

In democracy and the rule of law, ENNHRI’s annual rule of law report has shone a light on the rule of law at national level and strengthened the EU’s rule of law framework. We also continued to work with human rights defenders and civil society to counter shrinking civic space, and made third-party interventions at the European Court of Human Rights.

In the area of asylum and migration, ENNHRI highlighted rights of migrants at borders and the role of NHRIs in monitoring and protecting these. More recently, we looked at how they can contribute to human rights accountability systems at borders.

Looking at economic and social rights, NHRIs worked to apply a human rights-based approach to economic and social policies, including during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery.

Beyond this, we worked in areas as broad as NHRIs role in (post-)conflict situations, business and human rights, the sustainable development goals, and the rights of persons with disabilities.

There remain challenges. NHRIs still contend at times with insufficient or inadequate resources, and face challenging operating environments. Here, we cannot ignore COVID-19. It changed ways of working, making physical interactions impossible for a time. Yet NHRIs rose to the challenge, adapting their methods to continue their vital human rights activities. 

Indeed, the network’s vibrancy has remained undimmed throughout the pandemic period, with resilience and solidarity among NHRIs a constant in everchanging circumstances. We can be immensely proud of what we achieved by acting – together – for human rights.

This solidary is something we need more than ever, as Europe and NHRIs respond to the war in Ukraine – to support both the Ukrainian NHRI and the millions of people whose lives have been severely disrupted.

As the future looks very different than even a few weeks ago, in order to tackle human rights challenges both ongoing and new, we need NHRIs – empowered and working together. We need our network ENNHRI. I wish the new Board – with its mix of new and familiar faces – continued success, confident that the network is in the best possible hands.