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Introduction

About ENNHRI and NHRIs  

The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) brings together 47 National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) across wide Europe, including in 25 Member States of the EU and in 42 Member States of the Council of Europe. It provides support for the establishment and strengthening of NHRIs, a platform for collaboration and solidarity in addressing human rights challenges, and a common voice for NHRIs at the European level to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the region. ENNHRI is one of four regional NHRI networks, which together form GANHRI, the Global Alliance of NHRIs. 

NHRIs are state-mandated bodies, independent of government, with a broad constitutional or legal mandate to protect and promote fundamental rights at the national level. They work with government, parliament and the judiciary as well as with civil society organisations and human rights defenders (HRDs). They are established and function with reference to the UN Paris Principles which require NHRIs to carry out their work independently and promote respect for fundamental rights, democratic principles and rule of law in all circumstances, including in situations of state of emergency.  

While the specific mandate of each NHRI may vary, the general role of NHRIs is to promote and protect human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and address discrimination in all its forms. Given the breadth of their mandate, each NHRI selects strategic priorities for their work, based on their considerations of the national context. Different models of NHRIs exist across all regions of the world, including across Europe, namely: human rights commissions, human rights ombuds institutions, consultative and advisory bodies, institutes, and hybrid institutions. Information on ENNHRI members, including on the institutions’ type and mandate, can be found here.

Irrespective of their specific mandate, NHRIs are unique in that their independence, pluralism, accountability and effectiveness is periodically assessed and subject to international accreditation. Such accreditation, performed by the UN Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of NHRIs (GANHRI), is reviewed by reference to each NHRI’s compliance with the UN Paris Principles, international standards on the independent and effective functioning of NHRIs. This accreditation reinforces NHRIs as key interlocutors on the ground for rights holders, civil society organisations, state actors, and international bodies. More information on NHRI accreditation can be found here.

Taking stock of an enhanced recognition of the role of NHRIs in monitoring, protecting and promoting the Rule of Law  

In line with the identification of democracy and the rule of law as ENNHRI’s current priorities, and also reflected in ENNHRI’s Regional Action Plan on Promoting and Protecting Human Rights Defenders and Democratic Space, European NHRIs have been strengthening their strategic engagement within international and regional rule of law mechanisms over the past years.

Given the close interconnection and mutually reinforcing relationship between the rule of law, democracy and human rights, NHRIs are in a key position to report and participate in EU and regional rule of law monitoring initiatives as an integral part of their mandate to promote and protect human rights. 

On the one hand, NHRIs’ engagement has built on the international recognition of NHRIs as a rule of law indicator: when an independent and effective NHRI is in place in a state, international actors assess this as indicative of the state’s respect for rule of law and checks and balances more broadly. Conversely, the lack of A-status NHRI in a country, the content of SCA recommendations on NHRIs’ independence and effectiveness, or the existence of threats to the NHRI’s enabling environment can be indicative of more general challenges for rule of law and checks and balances in a country, which may require international consideration and follow-up. 

On the other hand, NHRIs’ engagement in European rule of law monitoring processes has used NHRIs’ unique position, based on their broad human rights mandate and taking into account their accreditation status, to provide information that can help international and regional actors to get a more accurate picture of the national rule of law environment. Indeed, monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in their country is an obligation under the Paris Principles and a central function of all NHRIs – NHRIs accredited as fully independent and effective (A-status NHRIs) being given independent reporting rights before the UN Human Rights Council, Treaty Bodies and other UN mechanisms. 

NHRIs have recognised that a common and coherent engagement with international and European policy makers in their efforts to uphold rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights inside and outside its borders can help ensure a more comprehensive and informed assessment of existing challenges at national and regional level. This, in turn, has the potential to help policy makers identify the most appropriate responses, reinforcing the impact of NHRIs’ recommendations at national level and prompting timely interventions from international and regional bodies as needed.

Such engagement of European NHRIs, supported and coordinated by ENNHRI, led to the publication in June 2020 of the first regional ENNHRI Report on the State of the Rule of Law in Europe (hereinafter, ‘ENNHRI 2020 Rule of Law Report’), compiling European NHRIs’ country submissions and an overview of trends. The report was used to feed international and regional policy processes aimed at monitoring, promoting and protecting the rule of law, human rights and democracy across the region.

ENNHRI 2020 Rule of Law Report, and the follow-up engagement of ENNHRI and NHRIs, was greatly welcomed by European policy makers and successfully fed into key policy processes, in particular at the EU level. Crucial policy instruments adopted by the EU over the past year recognise the unique potential of NHRIs both as contributors to and beneficiaries of EU action to promote and protect the rule of law, human rights and democracy both within and beyond the EU – as it was also further underlined on the occasion of ENNHRI Annual Conference held at the end of 2020.

Independent and effective NHRI are an indispensable part of checks and balances in each state  

International and regional actors have shown an increasing recognition of NHRIs as a key component of the institutional architecture that serves to realise the rule of law, human rights and democracy in each state. This is reflected in recent policy documents such as the UN Human Rights Council’s latest Resolution on NHRIs, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation on developing and strengthening NHRIs and its Decision on Securing the long-term effectiveness of the system of the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Commission’s first report on rule of law in the EU, the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, the latest EU enlargement package and the revised Eastern Partnership framework.  

Such recognition and support is key to drive progress towards the establishment and strengthening of fully independent and effective NHRIs in each country across the region. As also underlined by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in its recent report “Strong and effective national human rights institutions – challenges, promising practices and opportunities“, this is in turn essential to enable regional actors to rely on independent counterparts at national level and thus reinforce the quality and impacts of their efforts to promote and protect human rights, democracy and rule of law. 

NHRIs engagement in rule of law reporting serves to better address shortcomings and promote a national rule of law culture 

International and regional actors agree that NHRIs have a key role to play in connecting the efforts by international and regional actors to promote and protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law to the national level.

Building on their monitoring functions, their cooperation with state and non-state actors and their role as interlocutors between the state and general public, NHRIs have great potential in raising awareness, mobilising support and maximising impacts of international and regional actors’ efforts at the national level. At the same time, giving a European dimension to NHRIs’ national work on human rights, democracy and rule of law is an opportunity to further promote and enhance the impact of NHRIs’ role and their recommendations. It also is a way to foster mutual learning, enhanced solidarity and possible joint initiatives among NHRIs.

NHRIs’ common and coordinated rule of law reporting has clear value added for international and regional actors 

International and regional actors have underlined the clear value added of joint rule of law reporting by NHRIs through ENNHRI, based on a common approach and indicators, in terms of feeding into the assessment of the situation of human rights, democracy and rule of law in the countries across the region in a consistent and timely manner.

Joint rule of law reporting based on a common and coordinated approach is also beneficial for NHRIs themselves, as a means to enhance solidarity among NHRIs, exchange information and inspire each other’s action − which ENNHRI promotes and facilitates through coordination, support and peer learning initiatives. 

About this report

Scope of the report

Building on the first successful joint rule of law reporting experience last year, European NHRIs have again joined forces to reflect each institution’s perspectives on developments concerning the rule of law in their country, based on their human rights monitoring and reporting functions and having regard to their mandate and their national strategic priorities.  

The result is a comprehensive regional report which brings together national rule of law reports drafted by ENNHRI members in 42 countries across Europe, as well as information on the establishment and accreditation of NHRIs in 8 additional European countries. 

Building on this reporting exercise, sub-regional reports are feeding different consultation processes as relevant for NHRIs across ENNHRI’s membership (in particular EU Member States, Enlargement countries and Eastern Partnership countries). The report has also been used to inform the work of international and regional monitoring bodies including the UN Assistant Secretary-General on Reprisals.

Considerations on methodology

The reporting exercise, coordinated by ENNHRI, is based on a united approach by which NHRIs agreed to develop country-specific rule of law reports, using information extracted from relevant national reports and compiled on the basis of a structure and methodology common to all NHRIs, developed by ENNHRI. 

The united approach underpinning this reporting exercise reflects the spirit of cooperation and solidarity that underlines ENNHRI membership, while acknowledging the differences in roles, status, functioning and environment of NHRIs across the region. It is meant to frame a coherent engagement and reporting of ENNHRI in the different European rule of law monitoring processes as relevant to ENNHRI members across the region – while supporting the overarching work of ENNHRI on supporting its members’ efforts to promote and protect democracy, rule of law and human rights at national level. 

A detailed methodology paper, available here, has been developed by ENNHRI to illustrate the common approach of its members to reporting and participation in European rule of law mechanisms. 

The methodology has been revised and updated in the light of the preliminary assessment of the first pilot common reporting exercise that led to the publication of the 2020 ENNHRI Rule of Law Report and taking into account relevant policy developments at regional level. ENNHRI is committed to ensuring a continued evaluation of the common reporting structure and guiding principles through member-wide consultation at the end of each annual reporting cycle. This involves learning from experience and adaptation of the common methodology as appropriate, also having regard to the sustainability, effectiveness and impacts of the common approach at international, regional and national level.  

The following paragraphs outline the key features underpinning the agreed methodology.  

Key principles

The key principles underlying ENNHRI’s member NHRIs’ engagement in European rule of law monitoring initiatives, as identified for the purpose of the first ENNHRI Rule of Law Report of 2020, remain valid. These are:

(1) NHRIs’ contribution as information providers, to help regional actors have a more accurate picture of the national rule of law environment, based on reliable, objective and verifiable information. NHRIs can take advantage of their unique position to collect and provide input concerning both:

  • Their own features and concrete functioning, i.e., their formal and functional independence, pluralism and effectiveness (NHRIs as rule of law indicators); and
  • The human rights situation on the ground (NHRIs regular reporting on human rights with rule of law implications, e.g., access to justice, media pluralism, civic space, etc).

(2) NHRIs’ contribution to the identification and implementation of follow-up action to address detected issues at the national level, including facilitating discussions with national parliaments and, when covered by their mandate, through court proceedings.

(3) NHRIs’ role in the active promotion of a rule of law culture, including by raising awareness with the general public and cooperating with civil society stakeholders.

The compilation of country-specific rule of law reports on the basis of a structure and methodology common to all NHRIs, and the collation and publication of these as one regional report, coordinated by ENNHRI, remains the privileged approach with a view to, at once:

  • Supporting timely and coherent NHRI reporting under different EU mechanisms relevant to EU Member States, Enlargement, Eastern Partnership and other countries, and
  • Promoting enhanced NHRIs’ impacts on at national and regional level, in a spirit of cooperation and solidarity.

A common reporting structure 

For each annual reporting exercise, ENNHRI develops a common reporting structure in order to facilitate and streamline the collection of country information on rule of law by all NHRIs in wider Europe. The common reporting structure generally contains information provided by European NHRIs in relation to: 

  • The NHRI as indicator of rule of law, and
  • Country-specific human rights reporting by NHRIs with relevance to the rule of law.

The related questionnaires are developed by ENNHRI in a spirit of continuity with the previous year’s reporting exercise, while being adapted and integrated as appropriate to:

  • Integrate the priority areas and indicators identified by European institutions and bodies for the different rule of law mechanisms,
  • Accommodate feedback on the previous reporting exercise(s), and
  • Reflect relevant trends and policy developments.

The questionnaire shared with members for the purpose of this year’s reporting is included as Annex I to this report. 

The common reporting structure of this year’s report mirrors the areas covered by the 2020 ENNHRI Rule of Law Report, while elaborating more in-depth on certain aspects. In particular, it covers:

  • As regards the NHRI as an indicator of rule of law:
    • Progress in the establishment and/or accreditation of the NHRI;
    • Changes in the regulatory framework;
    • The extent to which state authorities ensure enabling space for the NHRI to independently and effectively carry out its work;
    • Significant changes in the NHRI’s environment relevant for the independent and effective fulfilment of the NHRI’s mandate;
  • As regards human rights issues with relevance to the rule of law, evidence of problematic laws, measures or practices in five thematic areas:  
    • Human rights defenders and civil society space;  
    • Checks and balances; 
    • Functioning of justice systems; 
    • Media pluralism; 
    • Corruption;
  • The impact of measures adopted to address the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of rule of law and human rights protection, long-term implications, as well as the impact on the NHRI’s functioning;
  • Any other pressing challenge in the field of human rights, or any other relevant developments or issues, having an impact on the national rule of law environment, relevant for the specific country situation.
  • In addition, this year’s reporting structure further offers information on:
  • The impact of last year’s reporting exercise;
    • Actions and initiatives taken by NHRIs to address the issues raised/to promote rule of law standards in each of the areas covered.
    • In order to encourage concise data provision, the reporting structure allowed NHRIs to reference existing resources as appropriate − including their general or thematic reporting activities at national or international level (see below). 

In filling out the questionnaire, each NHRI was free to report on what it deemed appropriate, also on the basis of the NHRI’s mandate, capacity, and national context. Insofar as the areas surveyed coincided with those covered by ENNHRI 2020 Rule of Law Report, NHRIs were encouraged to provide relevant updates concerning the issues reported on.

Each country report reflects the NHRI’s autonomous choice of scope of its country-specific reporting. Each NHRI is also solely responsible for the information provided as well as the positions or opinions expressed in connection to the issues reported on – without those positions or opinions being attributable to other NHRIs or to ENNHRI.  

Building on NHRIs’ existing functions and expertise 

In order to facilitate reporting, NHRIs are encouraged to develop their engagement in European rule of law mechanisms in synergy with their relevant work at national and international level. In concrete terms, this means that NHRIs engagement at the different stages is meant to build on or feed into: 

  • General or thematic national reporting initiatives; 
  • General or thematic reporting to other international monitoring bodies; 
  • The formulation of and follow-up of recommendations to national authorities. 

Role of ENNHRI in the analysis, processing, collation and dissemination of NHRIs’ reporting 

ENNHRI members confirmed the importance for the Secretariat to support their engagement in European rule of law mechanisms, with a view to enhance relevance, impact and sustainability. This includes support in the analysis and processing, as well as in the collation and dissemination of NHRIs’ reporting.  

In particular, ENNHRI undertakes the following tasks in relation to the analysis and processing of the country information by NHRIs: 

  • The development and regular update of the reporting methodology, in consultation with members;
  • Verification and consistency checks, performed via consultation with the relevant NHRI to obtain clarification or complementary information and data included in a country report − each NHRI remains responsible for the information and data provided therein; 
  • Highlighting emerging trends, through analysis and processing of the information included in the country reports received; and
  • Provision of information in each country report on the NHRIs’ establishment and accreditation status, including the latest report of the international accreditation committee with recommendations to improve compliance with the Paris Principles, in connection to the recognition of NHRIs as rule of law indicator.