EU and NHRIs: towards more effective engagement in promoting and protecting human rights
At the seminar on EU – NHRI engagement organised by ENNHRI on 29 November in Brussels, about 120 representatives of NHRIs, EU Institutions, CSOs and other regional bodies discussed their cooperation and engagement for promoting and protecting human rights in Europe.
In the opening of the event, panellists have stressed the crucial role of NHRIs as expert, independent institutions and valued partners on the ground; they also acknowledged the partnership with ENNHRI – “a network that connects NHRIs from across Europe, provides region-wide human rights information and expertise, and engages with EU actors”, as ENNHRI Chair Lora Vidović remarked.
“This event is an extraordinary opportunity to have a dialogue between all relevant regional actors, covering the internal and external dimension of EU’s human rights work; ENNHRI is bridging and bringing together NHRIs from the region, as well as partnering up with other regional networks and international organizations. This is very precious” – remarked Jean Louis Ville (European Commission’s Directorate for Cooperation and Development – DEVCO), in the opening of the event.
For Emmanuel Crabit, representing the Directorate-General for Justice, “whatever the scenarios, the future of Europe relies on our common values and respect for fundamental rights is one of them” (…) while “the key challenge is to render more effective fundamental rights on the ground – and improve the cooperation to protect these rights”.
Mr. Crabit also expressed appreciation for the work of the Polish NHRI to uphold the rule of law in Poland and reminded of the EU Framework to address systemic threats to the rule of law in any of the EU’s Member States, which has been applied for the first time in 2016 – following the developments in Poland. Indeed, the issue of the shrinking democratic space, and the increased number of attempts to undermine the rule of law across Europe – and beyond – has come up repeatedly during the discussions, with participants expressing their concerns and highlighting the need for sustained support from the European actors.
For the European Commission’s Enlargement Directorate (NEAR), NHRIs have as well a crucial role: “DG NEAR recognises and supports the crucial role of NHRIs as independent institutions. The “fundamentals first” approach to the EU’s Enlargement policy means that the reforms to strengthen the rule of law and fundamental rights are prioritised” said Myriam Ferran, Director of Strategy and Turkey.
As for FRA, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, cooperating with NHRIs is not simply a “ticking the box exercise”; FRA recognizes and values NHRIs as key partners. “A partnership much needed in these challenging times, says ENNHRI Chair, Croatian Ombudswoman Lora Vidović, “a bridge over troubled waters” in the words of Friso Roscam Abbing, FRA’s Head of Fundamental Rights Promotion.
Natural Partners within the European Human Rights Landscape
“We believe ourselves to be reliable partners for the EU. NHRIs can provide EU with expert information on national human rights trends and challenges, and link up EU activities, policies and regulations with local realities” explained ENNHRI’s Chair.
Discussions at the roundtables included varied concrete ideas to further cooperation and make the work of EU institutions become more relevant at national level – from the need of public messages of support from the EU, to the NHRIs’ involvement in the elaboration of national action plans and human rights dialogues, or the complementary role of NHRIs to facilitate dissemination as well as collection of data at national level.
The lively debates demonstrated the high interest for NHRIs to engage with EU bodies regardless of the national context and geography. In a challenging context with limited resources available, it is vital that European actors dedicated to human rights cooperate and support each other.
“We need to take home these messages and concrete ideas and put them in practice” concluded Beate Rudolf, president of GANHRI and Director of the German institute for Human Rights.