Responsibilities of NHRIs: Engaging with the international human rights system

The Paris Principles state that national human rights institutions (NHRIs) should:

“Cooperate with the United Nations and any other organization in the United Nations system, the regional institutions and the national institutions of other countries that are competent in the areas of the protection and promotion of human rights”.

NHRIs support the work of international and regional bodies by providing independent and reliable information and analysis. They also propose recommendations that can be made to their State to improve the human rights situation in their respective countries.

Another role of NHRIs is to promote and monitor implementation of relevant recommendations made to their State by UN human rights mechanisms.

NHRIs have established a strong record with the UN as trusted and legitimate partners. This is reflected in the annual UN resolution on national human rights institutions.

NHRIs can also assist their government to engage with the international human rights system; for example, by providing advice on ratification of human rights treaties or contributing to the preparation of State reports to UN treaty bodies and other mechanisms.

In addition to engaging with UN bodies in Geneva, NHRIs are increasingly contributing their expertise to the work of UN bodies in New York, including the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing, the Commission of the Status of Women, the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Support for NHRI engagement

GANHRI provides practical support for individual NHRIs to advocate at the UN Human Rights Council and engage with the human rights treaty bodies and the special procedures.

We also provide training and capacity building so that NHRIs can be as effective as possible in their engagement with the UN human rights bodies and mechanisms.

We also encourage NHRI participation, alongside GANHRI, in key international discussions through the UN Network on Migration and with UN mechanisms in support of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is the UN’s principal specialist human rights body. It is an intergovernmental body, comprising 47 member States, with a broad mandate to deal with all human rights issues and situations. It meets three times a year for regular sessions and holds special sessions as required.

  • ‘A status’ NHRIs have extensive participation rights in the Human Rights Council. They are entitled to attend and participate in all sessions of the Council, and have the right to make oral statements, in person or by video, in all sessions and

Universal Periodic Review

The Universal Periodic Review is a mechanism of the Human Rights Council under which all UN Member States are reviewed every four-and-a-half years on the performance of their international human rights obligations.

  • All NHRIs can provide “credible and reliable information” for the review.
  • ‘A status’ NHRIs can participate in the Council plenary debate on the adoption of the UPR Working Group reports, with the ‘A status’ NHRI of the State under review entitled to speak in the Council plenary session immediately after the State under review.

Special procedures

The special procedures are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council with responsibility for a thematic mandate, to deal with a specific human rights issue, or a country mandate, to deal with human rights issues within a specific country.

Special procedures undertake their mandates through a variety of functions, including research, studies, country visits, investigations and inquiries. They also report to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

  • All NHRIs can collaborate with the special procedures. This collaboration is especially important in relation to country visits, where the NHRI can be of great assistance to the special procedure mandate holder in planning and undertaking a visit.

Treaty monitoring bodies

Human rights treaty monitoring bodies examine the compliance of each State party with its obligations under the relevant treaty. They do this by reviewing State reports, holding a dialogue with State delegations and developing ‘concluding observations’ and recommendations to be implemented by the State party.

  • All NHRIs can contribute to all stages of the treaty monitoring process, including submitting parallel reports and other information, providing briefings for members of the treaty monitoring bodies, proposing recommendations to be made to the State and attending the interactive dialogue with the State.
  • All NHRIs can contribute to the development of ‘general comments’ and ‘general recommendations’ issued by the treaty monitoring body.