(old ver.)Special Event with National Human Rights Institutions: Background
At the occasion of the European Development Days
03-04 June 2015, Tour & Taxis, Brussels

Since 1993, the role, legitimacy and importance of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) has been affirmed. The number of NHRIs has increased from a few to over 100 institutions worldwide. NHRIs have strengthened their role and actions to encourage governments and other actors to promote human rights, to ensure redress for victims, and to support democratic and post-conflict transition.

New opportunities for NHRIs have arisen through their increasing integration into wider systems of human rights protection, globally and regionally. For instance, numerous NHRIs acquired additional mandates under specialised human rights instruments, such as the Convention Against Torture, and the UN Human Rights Council’s establishment of special procedural rights for NHRIs in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. In 2013, National Human Rights Institutions were also recognized within the UN system as human rights defenders.

However, NHRIs still face multiple challenges in fulfilling their mandates. All NHRIs do not fully meet the UN Paris Principles, the international benchmarks against which National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can be accredited by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC). Lack of full cooperation or compliance by governments or other public authorities hinders NHRIs to effectively monitor and remedy human rights violations. NHRI personnel may also be subject to reprisals by governments or other actors. In addition, many NHRIs face challenges in addressing new serious and trans-boundary threats to human rights as they emerge, for example, in the areas of business and human rights, natural resource governance and climate change.

In this context, the EU through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) supports NHRIs to strengthen their role as key actors to promote and protect human rights in line with the UN Paris Principles.

To learn more about EU's commitment please click here.

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National Human Rights Institutions have the mandate to promote and protect human rights. National Human Rights Institutions are State bodies but they shall operate and function independently from government.

While their specific mandate may vary, core functions of NHRIs include inter alia:

  • making recommendations to the Government, Parliament and any other competent body, on any matters concerning the promotion and protection of human rights,
  • examining the legislation and administrative provisions in force, as well as bills and proposals, and ensure that these provisions are conform to the fundamental principles of human rights,
  • handling complaint and drawing the attention to situations where human rights are violated and making to put an end to such situations,
  • preparing reports on the national situation with regard to human rights in general, and on more specific matters,
  • increasing public awareness, especially through information by making use of all press organs and education in assisting in the formulation of programmes for the teaching of, and research into, human rights,
  • encouraging ratification of the international human rights instruments and their effective implementation in promoting and ensuring the harmonization of national legislation regulations and practices with the instruments,
  • cooperating with the United Nations system, the regional institutions and the national institutions of other countries.

National Human Rights Institutions are an important link between government and civil society. Through their mandate they help bridge the 'protection gap' between the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of the State. They also connect the national, regional and international levels.

The organisation of National Human Rights Institutions varies from one country to another. Nowadays, six models exist across the world namely: Human rights commissions, Human rights ombudsman institutions, Hybrid institutions, Consultative and advisory bodies, Institutes and centres and multiple institutions.

An international association of National Human Rights Institutions, The International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions (ICC), provides leadership in the promotion and protection of human rights. NHRIs have also established regional and cross regional networks.

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The United Nations Paris Principles adopted in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly provide the international benchmarks against which National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can be accredited by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC).

The Paris Principles require NHRIs to protect human rights, including by receiving, investigating and resolving complaints, mediating conflicts and monitoring activities, and to promote human rights, through education, outreach, the media, publications, training and capacity building, as well as advising and assisting the Government.

The Paris Principles set out six main criteria:

  • A broad mandate, based on universal human rights norms and standards;
  • Autonomy from Government;
  • Independence guaranteed by statute or Constitution;
  • Pluralism;
  • Adequate resources; and
  • Adequate powers of investigation.

Please find the Paris Principles here:

üThe Paris Principles in English

üThe Paris Principles in French

üThe Paris Principles in Spanish and,

üThe Paris Principles in Arabic

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The International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) is the international association of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) from all parts of the globe. Established in 1993, the ICC promotes and strengthens NHRIs to be in accordance with the Paris Principles, and provides leadership in the promotion and protection of human rights.

The ICC through its Sub Committee on Accreditation (SCA) reviews and accredits National Human Rights Institutions in compliance with Paris Principles. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is a permanent observer on the SCA and serves as the secretariat to the ICC and its SCA.

There are currently three levels of accreditation: "A"complies fully with the Paris Principles, "B" does not fully comply with the Paris Principles or has not yet submitted sufficient documentation to make that determination, "C" does not comply with the Paris Principles.

For more information visit ICC's website here.

You can also find all NHRIs and their levels of accreditation on ICC's website.

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You can find a list of all NHRIs, with contact and their levels of accreditation on ICC's website.

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International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions (ICC)

The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions

The Network of African National Human Rights Institutions and

The Network of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the American Continent

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EIDHR support to NHRIs

The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) supports the strengthening of the capacities of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and the cooperation with their regional and international networks in promoting and protecting human rights.

The legal basis for EIDHR support to NHRIs can be found in article 2.1- ii of the Regulation EU N° 235/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2014 establishing a financing instrument for democracy and human rights worldwide (hereafter the EIDHR Regulation 2014-2020). According to the EIDHR Regulation 2014-2020, the European Union focus inter alia on the support of National Human Rights Institutions.

The support of NHRIs is also specifically mentioned under Objective 5 of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) multiannual indicative programme 2014-2017. This is why, the Action Document for Supporting key actors – National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) (Annex 5 of the eidhr Annual Action Program 2014) foresees the strengthening through EIDHR support of the capacities of NHRIs individually and collectively in line with the UN Paris Principles, in order to increase their impact and effectiveness in promoting and protecting human rights, with a specific focus on their activities related to human rights and business, and economic, social and cultural rights.

Moreover, the EIDHR strengthens the cooperation between and collective capacity of regional networks of NHRIs and the ICC and their interaction with human rights mechanisms at regional and global levels.

Specific objectives of the EIDHR include:

a) Increasing the number of NHRIs in conformity with UN Paris Principles requirements worldwide,

b) Increasing the impact and effectiveness of NHRIs in fulfilling their mandates, with an emphasis on NHRI core capacities, accessibility to victims, cooperation with civil society, and emerging human rights challenges and opportunities,

c) Boosting NHRIs’ individual and collective capacities to promote and protect human rights at regional levels, including by strengthening NHRI regional networks and the ICC as international human rights stakeholders.

Last but not least, a new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, to be adopted in the spring 2015, identifies NHRIs as key partners to the EU and acknowledges their essential role in the promotion and protection of human rights. This builds on EU previous acknowledgement in the EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2012 - 2014) of the importance of deepening its cooperation with partner countries and to promote universal adherence to human rights.

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EU Background documents

- EIDHR Regulation 2014-2020 (Regulation (EU) No 235/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2014 establishing a financing instrument for democracy and human rights worldwide)

- EIDHR multiannual indicative programme 2014-2017

- EIDHR AAP 2014 – ANNEX 5 Action Document for Supporting key actors – National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs)

- EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy – 2012

- Handbook on the establishment and accreditation of National Human Rights Institutions in the European Union, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), 2012

- NHRIs in the EU Member States (Strengthening the fundamental rights architecture in the EU I)-2010, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)

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European Development Days 

Organised by the European Commission, the European Development Days (EDD15) is Europe’s leading forum on development and international cooperation. In the context of the European Year for Development (EYD) in 2015, this year's forum is of particular importance. Indeed, it will serve as flagship event by showcasing the ways in which European Union Member States and citizens are contributing to the eradication of poverty and the promotion of human rights worldwide.

The European Development Days will take place at a crucial moment, right before the negotiation of the post-MDGs package and will be a unique opportunity to debate the inclusion of Human Rights objectives in the future framework and to link development and human rights.

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