Responsibilities of NHRIs: Cooperating at the national level
National human rights institutions (NHRIs) play a crucial role in any national system to promote and protect human rights. However, to achieve long-term change, they must cooperate with other institutions and organisations within their country.
The Paris Principles require NHRIs to work cooperatively with the government, the parliament, the courts and other institutions of the State.
They also explicitly call on NHRIs to “develop relations with the non-governmental organizations devoted to promoting and protecting human rights, to economic and social development, to combating racism, to protecting particularly vulnerable groups (especially children, migrant workers, refugees, physically and mentally disabled persons) or to specialized areas”.
Based on their strategic priorities, NHRIs should develop partnerships to support their efforts to advocate for the reform of laws, policies and practices; to monitor the human rights situation in the country; to investigate alleged violations of human rights, including through national inquiries; and to deliver human rights education and awareness raising programmes.
Given their limited resources, a clear set of strategic priorities is vital as it assists NHRIs to identify and invest in those partnerships that will best promote and protect human rights in the country.
NHRIs should prioritise their cooperation with:
- Parliament, as most NHRIs are required to report annually to their national parliament on their activities. NHRIs should advocate for the recommendations made in their reports. NHRIs should also engage with parliamentary committees that undertake inquiries or review legislation to highlight human rights issues and provide their advice. The Belgrade Principles on the Relations between NHRIs and Parliaments identify a range of practical opportunities for NHRIs to engage constructively with parliaments.
- Government, which is responsible for meeting State obligations under international human rights law. While tensions can exist in the relationship between the NHRI and the government, the role of the NHRI is to support the government to meet these obligations by providing independent advice. Constructive engagement assists the NHRIs to meet this responsibility. This should include regular meetings with designated officials from relevant ministries, departments or agencies.
- Judiciary, which is essential for upholding the rule of law and underpins all efforts to promote and protect human rights at the national level. While respecting the independence of the judiciary, NHRIs can support their work by raising human rights issues in selected cases before the courts. For example, NHRIs can intervene in cases as amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’). They can also convene informal roundtable discussions for judges and the legal community on certain aspects of human rights law.
- Civil society organisations, which commonly have broad membership and strong grassroots connections within the community. They are essential partners of NHRIs and share a similar commitment to improving the protection and promotion of human rights, within their specific areas of expertise. Given the many civil society organisations that operate in a country, it is important that NHRIs develop a consistent and inclusive approach to engagement to ensure that key information, insights and expertise can be shared in a timely manner.
Other key collaborations
NHRIs should also look to establish constructive and strategic relationships with:
- Journalists and media professionals, to raise community awareness of and support for human rights through informed media reporting
- Business leaders, to engage in a dialogue on practical measures to promote improved protection of human rights within business activities
- UN Country Teams, including OHCHR and UNDP, to support the NHRI build its institutional capacity and to develop and implement programmes aligned to the NHRI’s strategic priorities.
- A Manual on National Human Rights Institutions; Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (2015)
- National Human Rights Institutions: History, Principles, Roles and Responsibilities; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2010)
- A Toolkit for Collaboration with National Human Rights Institutions; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNDP (2010)