A person holds up a sign saying "equal rights" at a protest
14 Dec 2022

NHRIs and other human rights defenders continue to achieve positive change despite narrowing civic space 

European National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are stepping up their support for human rights defenders (HRDs) in the region. NHRIs play a vital role in protecting, promoting and supporting individual HRDs and civil society organisations in their human rights work. They do so through various functions embedded in the NHRI mandate given by the UN Paris Principles. Crucially, NHRIs and their staff are also recognised as human rights defenders who can face threats, challenges and pressure while carrying out their mandate.

In a time of narrowing civic space, NHRIs can help place human rights at the heart of public debate. NHRIs act as ‘bridge builders’ between international human rights standards and national realities. They engage with rights-holders and defenders and cooperate with government authorities, civil society, and international organisations.  

The European Commission recognises this important role in its latest annual report on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The report, which ENNHRI inputted to via a submission earlier this year, focuses on “a thriving civic space for upholding fundamental rights in the EU.” It also reaffirms that rights defenders must enjoy an enabling environment without undue interference or challenges, and states must protect and promote  civic space and those active within it.

Furthermore, it recognises NHRIs as rights defenders that contend with similar challenges to civil society organisations. In particular, it notes threats and harassment, including online, and obstacles to NHRIs’ independence and ability to secure adequate resources. The report also makes several references to NHRIs’ roles, activities, challenges, and contributions to creating stronger civic space and cites many examples from NHRIs in the region as good practices.

Continuing this work on NHRIs and rights defenders, ENNHRI submitted information about NHRIs and the positive change achieved by human rights defenders (HRDs) for a report of the UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs. The Special Rapporteur, Mary Lawlor, will submit her report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2023. This report will focus on HRD success stories and spotlight their enormous societal contributions in the 25 years since the HRD Declaration was adopted in 1998.

Read the ENNHRI submission on NHRIs and HRDs. It contains several good practices of NHRIs’ work with and protection of the rights of HRDs. Many of these are also featured in ENNHRI’s online HRD Resource, which guides European NHRIs wanting to find more effective ways of working with and protecting the rights of HRDs.

Additionally, European NHRIs conduct annual joint rule of law reporting through ENNHRI. This gives an overview of the human rights situation on the ground in each state. NHRIs include the enabling environment for civil society and HRDs as a topic in this annual reporting. Discover good practices on NHRI engagement with HRDs in ENNHRI’s report on the state of the rule of law in Europe in 2022, including within individual country reports.