07 Jul 2022

New report sees NHRIs hold up a mirror to the rule of law situation in Europe

For the third year in a row, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) from around Europe have reported on challenges in the rule of law landscape in their countries. At the same time, they highlight NHRI actions to safeguard the rule of law and address recommendations to state authorities and European policy makers. These insights are compiled in ENNHRI’s third annual report on the state of the rule of law in Europe.

The reporting from 40 European countries reveals a further deterioration in the rule of law across Europe compared to last year.

What are the report’s main findings?

Effective and independent NHRIs – being a rule of law indicator themselves – are crucial to ensure proper functioning of national systems of checks and balances. Therefore, in the context of persistent rule of law challenges, NHRIs are also impacted. Some face attacks and threats to their independence, while numerous institutions must contend with insufficient cooperation from national authorities and inadequate financial and human resources – even in the context of expanded NHRI mandates.

NHRIs also identified negative trends in other areas. These include worsening operating conditions for civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs); examples of a further erosion of checks and balances; persisting obstacles in access to justice; and concerning levels of corruption and insufficient whistle-blower protection. Notably, they reported a significant decline in media freedom, pluralism in media market, and the safety of journalists.

Moreover, restrictive measures taken to tackle COVID-19 exacerbated some of these challenges with NHRIs emphasising their long-term impact, especially on vulnerable groups, They also point to systemic human rights violations that impact the rule of law; this is particularly visible in the non-execution of regional court judgments by state authorities.

What do NHRIs recommend to improve respect for the rule of law?

To address these pressing issues, NHRIs have outlined a series of key recommendations to European and national policy makers. They include:

  • Ensuring independent and effective NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles and an enabling environment for NHRIs – in line with the Council of Europe Recommendation 2021/1 on NHRIs – with a strong mandate, adequate resources and cooperation;
  • Providing a supportive framework for HRDs that also ensures participation and funding, as well as protecting HRDs and CSOs from attacks, including strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs);
  • Enhancing checks and balances, including through more effective judicial reviews, consultations and human rights impact assessments, while involving NHRIs in these processes;
  • Ensuring fair appointments and proper administration of justice, as well as improving access to justice, including for vulnerable groups;
  • Ensuring freedom of expression, access to information, and the protection of journalists and media outlets from attacks and the abuse of laws or legal harassment, for example SLAPPs;
  • Strengthening frameworks to prevent and fight corruption, including stronger anti-corruption bodies and effective whistle-blower protection;
  • Ensuring legality, proportionality and democratic oversight of COVID-19 measures, including by conducting human rights impact assessments – in cooperation with NHRIs, CSOs, and HRDs – while paying particular attention to the situation of vulnerable and marginalised groups;
  • Securing timely and effective implementation of judgments of regional courts, namely the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Court of Justice of the EU, as well recommendations from human rights bodies such as NHRIs.

Exploring the report and related materials

Dive into the report and its findings by visiting the interactive webpage. This features all 41 country reports and an overview of key trends and recommendations by thematic area.

Download the full report and executive summary.

Explore an online tool for NHRIs on executing ECtHR judgements. Read more on ENNHRI’s work on democracy and rule of law.