13 Oct 2021

NHRIs and strengthening human rights accountability at borders

ENNHRI is embarking on a new project focused on human rights accountability at borders. Building on recent work monitoring the human rights of migrants at borders, the project seeks to bolster the role NHRIs have in strengthening accountability.

The last two years saw ENNHRI work on a project on NHRIs’ work in monitoring, reporting and protecting the human rights of migrants at borders. This recently concluded with a regional report based on NHRI findings that set out trends and recommendations for stronger human rights protection at borders.  

The increased attention paid to human rights monitoring at borders is evidenced in the European Commission’s proposal for each Member State to establish border monitoring mechanisms. ENNHRI provided detailed recommendations on the proposal earlier this year.  

However, human rights monitoring is not an end in itself; rather, it is a means to increase accountability and human rights compliance. 

Why shift the focus from “monitoring” to “accountability” at borders? 

Different forms of human rights accountability systems exist at the national level, but many are flawed, being insufficiently independent or ineffective. For this reason, ENNHRI has started its new accountability-focused project.  

European NHRIs have reported an overall climate of impunity at borders. There is a lack of investigations into rights violations, poor cooperation by police and border authorities, inadequate access to justice for victims, and a lack of political will to recognise and address shortcomings.  

European NHRIs play a crucial role in tackling such issues within the wider human rights accountability system. They facilitate victims’ access to justice, provide independent scrutiny of activities at borders, and issue recommendations that can help prevent violations from occurring. They also contribute to holding actors accountable before the public and legislature(s).  

What is human rights accountability? 

Accountability has many dimensions, from independent monitoring to effective and accessible mechanisms for redress in the event of violations.  

Human rights accountability at borders necessitates, among others, mechanisms that can handle complaints against the diverse actors engaged in border management. Complementarity between existing and emerging accountability actors is vital to inform investigations and ensure that they take place, establish responsibility, and provide victims with an effective remedy.  

At the same time, making individuals aware of and empowering them to access their rights, including the right to investigations and effective remedies, are essential to allow victims of rights violations to engage with human rights systems at borders and to access justice.  

How will ENNHRI contribute to stronger human rights accountability at borders? 

The new project aims to better protect and promote the human rights of migrants at borders by strengthening human rights accountability. ENNHRI will draw on NHRI expertise to identify accountability gaps and issue recommendations to national and regional authorities on how they can bridge these.  

ENNHRI will also facilitate NHRI cooperation and exchanges on common challenges, good practices, and recommendations at the national and regional levels. 

In cases of cross-border human rights violations, partnerships between authorities and other actors are critical to ensure accountability. To this end, ENNHRI will help NHRIs identify collaboration opportunities among themselves and with civil society organisations that can improve accountability.  

In its role as a regional network, ENNHRI will continue to advocate at the European level for legislation, policies, and practices that increase accountability and prevent further human rights violations at borders. Doing so will raise the profile and visibility of NHRIs as crucial parts of the human rights accountability system. 

» Learn about ENNHRI’s work on asylum and migration