COVID-19 study highlights the imperative role of NHRIs in protecting human rights throughout the pandemic




The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) released the findings of a commissioned study regarding NHRIs experiences with COVID-19. 

The pandemic has had a severe impact on socioeconomics and human rights. NHRIs in all regions of the world have refocused their efforts to adapt and address human rights implications and support preparedness, response and recovery, and prevention within their communities. 

The objective of the study, commissioned by the GANHRI-OHCHR-UNDP Tripartite Partnership (TPP) in support of National Human Rights Institutions, was to provide a collaborative analysis to share good practices, experiences and lessons learned pertaining to NHRIs and their response to COVID-19. 

The findings show that NHRIs responded unanimously by shifting their efforts to areas of human rights directly affected by COVID-19 and government response. 

This shift included an emphasis on groups and individuals at risk and covered the many thematic fields of human rights that NHRIs strive to strengthen and protect. These areas include persons with disabilities and older persons, women and children, migrants and internally displaced persons, minorities and indigenous peoples, the right to health and life, the right to information, participation, and privacy, and addressing social conflict and Xenophobia. 

NHRIs employed their mandates to address complaints and violations within the aforementioned fields, provide advice to their governments and administrations, and ensure appropriate action that’s proportional to the situation. 

The research further finds that not only have NHRIs made themselves more visible through various communication channels including social media, but they played an integral role in assuring basic needs were being met such as housing, water and nutrition, and labor conditions. 

Consequently, these institutions were also impacted by COVID-19 which has affected their ability to function. However, NHRIs have remained overwhelmingly resilient in their ability to adapt and overcome and were able to form closer relationships with leaders and public agencies. 

Lessons from the study identify that NHRIs responded correspondingly across all regions with their focus on the protection of peoples most at risk. It also highlighted the vitality of these organizations being fastened to their mandates and response to render the needs of their communities. 

The support of UNDP, OHCHR, and GANHRI, both collaboratively and individually, have significantly facilitated NHRIs in their ability to innovate and strategically execute necessary work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Crucial to this is technical assistance, resource allocation, and knowledge exchange and peer-to-peer support through GANHRI and regional networks. The Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution of October 2020, which increased State support for national human rights institutions, illustrates these efforts.  

The study conclusively demonstrates the importance of NHRIs during a global crisis.  

Moving forward, it is essential for State to empower existing NHRIs in accordance with the Paris Principles and establish them where they are not yet instituted, provide resources, incorporate NHRI expertise in policymaking, and assimilate them into emergency protocol. 

Additionally, further support from UNDP, OHCHR, and GANHRI in the key areas of advocacy, legal aid, digitalization of human rights monitoring, public awareness campaigns, capacity strengthening, relief and personal protection, equipment distribution, and technical support will allow NHRIs to work effectively and grow from their experiences with COVID-19. 

GANHRI thanks all member national human rights institutions for participating and contributing their time and efforts to the study.