Responsibilities of NHRIs: Monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation
Monitoring the human rights situation within a country is a key role of every national human rights institution (NHRI). The goal is to document and provide redress for human rights violations that have taken place and to promote reform of laws, policies and practices that will prevent human rights violations from occurring.
The Paris Principles state that NHRIs should prepare “reports on the national situation with regard to human rights in general, and on more specific matters”. Through their monitoring and reporting, NHRIs can draw “the attention of the Government to situations in any part of the country where human rights are violated and make proposals to it for initiatives to put an end to such situations and, where necessary, express an opinion on the positions and reactions of the Government”.
NHRIs undertake their monitoring work through research and investigation. This will often involve seeking information from State agencies, civil society organisations, victims of human rights violations, media reporting and other sources.
The NHRI will generally prepare a report on their monitoring, which analyses the situation and sets out the NHRI’s findings and its recommendations to promote compliance with international human rights standards. The report will be provided to the government and the parliament and, in certain instances, to international human rights mechanisms.
These reports are generally public documents, although an NHRI’s founding legislation may require them to first be tabled in the parliament before they can be shared broadly.
Oversight of the human rights situation
NHRIs have a responsibility to monitor the human rights situation within their country. This might include monitoring the human rights situation broadly, in one part of the country or in relation to a specific human rights issue (whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural).
NHRIs may monitor the human rights situation of a specific group of people, such as women, children, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples or refugees and asylum seekers.
They may also monitor human rights compliance in relation to certain events, such as political protests, demonstrations and elections. This monitoring can help promote compliance with human rights standards, for example, by police or security officials.
Oversight of specific places
Many NHRIs undertake monitoring of places where there is a greater risk of human rights violations occurring. This will commonly include places where people are deprived of liberty, such as police stations, prisons and juvenile detention facilities, immigration detention centres, aged care facilities and psychiatric institutions.
This monitoring function may be set out in the NHRI’s founding legislation or the NHRI may be designated as a ‘national preventive mechanism’ following the State’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). In both cases, the purpose of monitoring is to identify and address the risk factors that can lead to human rights violations.
Undertaking effective monitoring
There is no single monitoring process that NHRIs should follow. Each NHRI will develop a process appropriate to its own national context and the issue it is examining.
However, the monitoring process should:
- Be planned in advance, so the NHRI is clear on what specific human rights issues will be monitored and how the monitoring will be undertaken
- Collect and analyse information from multiple sources, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the issue and, where necessary, to test or ‘triangulate’ evidence
- Collect information over time – either in relation to a specific human rights situation, a place of detention or the detention system as a whole – to assess whether the human rights situation has improved or deteriorated.
- 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)
- Defending Dignity: Manual for National Human Rights Institutions on Monitoring Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and the Center for Economic and Social Rights Sydney (2015)
- Preventing Torture: Operational Guide for National Human Rights Institutions; Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, Association for the Prevention of Torture and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2010)
- Manual on Conducting a National Inquiry into Systemic Patterns of Human Rights Violation: Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (2012)