04 Jul 2024

NHRIs shine a light on the state of the rule of law in Europe

For the fifth consecutive year, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have shared insights into their national rule of law situations. They have reported on various areas affecting the rule of law, focusing on checks and balances and the impacts of securitisation on the rule of law. Their findings identify challenges and how NHRIs address them. Building on these, recommendations are provided for regional actors and national authorities to strengthen the rule of law across Europe. Explore these findings in a new tool, which also includes the reports of NHRIs from previous years.

The main findings of the report

First of all, the report examines the general challenges that impact NHRIs’ effectiveness and independence. It looks at factors affecting NHRIs’ enabling space and reflects on the progress in establishing NHRIs in European countries where they do not yet exist. NHRIs again raise concerns over the insufficient follow-up to their recommendations by state authorities. NHRIs also stressed unsatisfactory consultation by national authorities during law- and policy-making processes. Some NHRIs have also highlighted difficulties accessing information and receiving sufficient human and financial resources. These significantly limit their ability to act as strong checks and balances, in line with their official mandates. It is also concerning to note that some ENNHRI members are facing harassment and attacks when carrying out their mandate.

Secondly, NHRIs outlined issues affecting the overall system of checks and balances. These include undermining of the judiciary’s authority and independence, the excessive use of accelerated legislative procedures, and insufficient time for public consultations. Notably, the latter prevents civil society from participating in decision-making processes. NHRIs also reported the continuing lack of human rights impact assessments and insufficient resources for all independent public institutions, reducing these institutions’ efficiency. As in previous years, ENNHRI members warned about shrinking civic space and increasing restrictions on human rights defenders’ activities. In a robust system of checks and balances, both civil society and rights defenders are crucial to holding national decision makers to account.

Thirdly, within the section on securitisation, ENNHRI members reported on the negative impact of restrictive national security measures on the rule of law and human rights. Such measures have been introduced in numerous countries in response to various situations, including migration, threats of terrorism and armed conflicts in the region. In particular, this is negatively affecting freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and the right to privacy.

Finally, the report stresses shortcomings in the effective and timely implementation by national authorities of European Courts’ judgments. A similar issue arises when implementing regional actors’ recommendations concerning the rule of law. This prevents advancing towards a stronger rule of law compliance and human rights protection across the region.

How NHRIs recommend to strengthen the rule of law in Europe

To counter the identified challenges, ENNHRI recommends regional actors and national authorities to:

  • Further advance the implementation of regional actors’ recommendations and decisions on the rule of law by state authorities, in a timely manner and in cooperation with NHRIs. For instance, relevant dialogues and discussions at regional and national levels should consistently address the progress of such implementation.
  • Firmly support the establishment and enabling space for independent and effective NHRIs, which are themselves a key element of healthy checks and balances, notably by ensuring adequate financial and human resources to properly carry out their mandate as well as by ensuring timely follow-up to NHRIs’ recommendations.
  • Safeguard and strengthen other checks and balances across Europe, including by ensuring transparent, timely and meaningful consultations of legislation and policies, alongside the effective and timely implementation of national courts’ decisions. In addition, ensure enabling space for other independent public institutions, civil society organisations and human rights defenders.
  • Ensure the proper and timely implementation of European Courts’ judgments, including by establishing adequate institutional and procedural frameworks for the effective fulfilment of states’ obligations and developing procedures strengthening meaningful participation of NHRIs.
  • Ensure a human rights-based approach with regard to securitisation, in particular by conducting human rights impact assessments of laws and policies relevant to national security and law enforcement activities. These assessments should also include timely and meaningful consultations with NHRIs and other relevant stakeholders.
  • Address other persisting challenges for the rule of law, including structural human rights issues, while acknowledging that the rule of law and human rights are mutually reinforcing.

The pivotal role of NHRIs in the rule of law landscape

ENNHRI members have again contributed to the joint reporting exercise on the rule of law, offering comparative information and key recommendations. As independent bodies mandated to protect and promote human rights, NHRIs are well placed to report on these issues as the effective protection of human rights is only possible in rule of law-compliant environment. At the same time, NHRIs themselves are recognised as rule of law indicators as they are key elements of healthy checks and balances.

Exploring the findings and related materials

Dive into the regional analysis and all individual country reports in ENNHRI’s new tool. This allows users to compare and browse all findings from this and previous years.

See an infographic outlining ENNHRI’s key recommendations to policymakers.

Read about ENNHRI’s work on democracy and rule of law.