Countries across Europe are witnessing shrinking democratic space, including restrictive laws on the right to freedom of expression and assembly, laws undermining judicial independence, security measures disproportionally affecting individual freedoms and negative public discourse on human rights. Therefore, this is an important area of joint work for European NHRIs. Through our Legal Working Group, we bring together over 20 European NHRIs for collective action and collaboration in this area.
Civil society space and Human Rights Defenders
In line with the UN Paris Principles, NHRIs’ composition and work reflect different strands of civil society and are vital for their engagement on the diversity of human rights issues affecting society. The GANHRI Marrakech Declaration highlights the unique role of NHRIs in expanding and safeguarding civic space and promoting and protecting Human Rights Defenders, taking a gender-based approach.
Following the Declaration’s adoption, our 2018 Annual Conference addressed how NHRIs in Europe can better support democratic space and human rights defenders. We also developed a Regional Action Plan for the Declaration. This outlines actions for European NHRIs – acting nationally and collectively – under the areas of prevention (i.e. ensuring an enabling democratic space, including rule of law and human rights) and reaction (i.e. continuous and rapid responses when democracy, human rights and rule of law come under threat). The subsequent Implementation Report shows key activities conducted.
Defending Human Rights Defenders – an online resource launched in April 2022 – guides NHRIs wanting to find more effective ways to work with and protect the rights of human rights defenders. It brings together informative material on defenders and a comprehensive good practice database.
|Explore the resource: Defending Human Rights Defenders|
NHRIs in compliance with the UN Paris Principles are themselves recognised as Human Rights Defenders at the level of the UN and in Europe. This includes, for example, in the 2018 Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Recommendation on Civil Society Space. We provide support for European NHRIs when their compliance with the UN Paris Principles come under threat, such as through a reduction in formal independence, a reduction in mandate, budget cuts or the removal of office holders.
Implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights
NHRIs are key stakeholders in ensuring the effective implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) at the national level, as expressed in the Council of Europe’s high-level political declarations on the reform of the Court, including Interlaken, Izmir, Brighton and Copenhagen. They work to promote implementation through a variety of ways, such as providing advice to national governments, collaborating with civil society and the Council of Europe and supporting the implementation and execution of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments.
To build NHRIs’ capacity in this area, we developed guidelines on the implementation of ECtHR judgments and published an information note on the Rule 9 communication mechanism, which allows for NHRIs to contribute to the supervision of the execution of judgments of the ECtHR by the Committee of Ministers. Moreover, NHRIs (both individually and collectively through ENNHRI) submit third-party interventions (amicus curiae) before the ECtHR in relation to cases of regional significance (for example, see our submission on Strøbye v. Denmark and Rosenlind v. Denmark).
|Download: Guidance for NHRIs to support implementation of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights|
In April 2021, we launched an interactive tool aimed at supporting and guiding NHRIs in their efforts to work on the execution of ECtHR judgments. This online guidance compiles existing resources and tools on ECtHR implementation, as well as available key lessons learned and existing NHRI good practices. The tool illustrates how NHRI efforts on ECtHR implementation can work as a continuing cycle where outcomes of national efforts to promote implementation of Court judgments can be used in international advocacy efforts, the outcomes of which can strengthen subsequent national efforts. It provides key examples of NHRI activities, coupled with relevant resources and tools.
|Explore: Online tool for NHRIs on ECtHR judgment implementation|
We have also been involved in the ongoing process of the Convention system’s reform and enhancement. We participated in several high-level conferences, which resulted most recently in the adoption of the Copenhagen Declaration. This Declaration affirmed the Council of Europe Member States’ commitment to a strong and independent ECtHR, the right to individual petition, the responsibility of states for national implementation, and the crucial role of NHRIs in the Convention’s implementation, all points for which we strongly advocated.
Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
NHRIs work towards the implementation of all international human rights standards at the national level through their broad state mandate to promote and protect human rights. They are therefore essential actors for the implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
European NHRIs have participated in capacity building activities to strengthen the implementation of the Charter, both collectively as members of our Legal Working Group (see below) and individually in-country. For example, the Croatian, Finnish and Polish NHRIs held national-level trainings on the implementation of the Charter in cooperation with the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
On the tenth anniversary of the Charter, the Council of the EU underlined the necessity of safeguarding an enabling environment for NHRIs, Equality Bodies and other human rights mechanisms, stressing the role they play in the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and in ensuring compliance with the Charter.
We have also collated good practices from NHRIs across Europe which are working towards the national implementation of the Charter in a publication.
|Download: Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – NHRI Activities|
Contributions to Strengthening the EU Rule of Law Framework
EU institutions have expressed concern about threats to the rule of law in the EU, including challenges to judicial independence, corruption and the weakening of civil society and independent media. They have therefore stressed the need for stronger EU rule of law mechanisms. In this context, we engage in the strengthening processes, including with the Council of the EU, European Commission, European Parliament, Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee.
As a result of this engagement, relevant EU actors have recognised NHRIs and ENNHRI as contributors to the rule of law. The European Parliament has referred to ENNHRI on the proposed EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights as a possible Observer in the Expert Panel. In a 2019 communication from the European Commission, NHRIs are recognised as relevant contributors to the promotion of the rule of law, prevention of systemic threats and reaction, including through the future rule of law cycle.
|For the fourth consecutive year, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) around Europe have reported on rule of law challenges 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. Their insights are compiled in ENNHRI’s 2023 report on the state of the rule of law in Europe.|
|The latest FRA report on strong and effective NHRIs, underlines that “there are significant roles for NHRIs in the context of the rule of law in the EU – not least in terms of monitoring. (…) An independent, well-funded and effective NHRI can be an indicator in itself of the state of the respect for the rule of law and human rights in a given country (…) and could also have an important role in the follow-up to the annual rule of law.” Learn more|
Video: NHRIs and Human Rights Defenders
Legal Working Group
We bring together over 20 European NHRIs through our Legal Working Group, which acts as hub of experts and a platform to exchange knowledge, good practices and challenges that NHRIs face when working on legal issues. The Working Group advises on issues such as the reform of the ECtHR, developments regarding the Convention system and the accession of the EU to the ECtHR.
It also enhances the competence of NHRIs at national level, including by raising awareness of international human rights conventions and the importance of the implementation of ECtHR judgements, and drafts and/or facilitates ENNHRI statements on human rights issues as well as interventions in European courts.
Leena Leikas – Finnish Human Rights Centre
NHRIs of: Armenia, Belgium (Myria), Belgium (Unia), Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine