Support to NHRIs

Defending NHRIs from threats and reprisals

NHRIs are established by the State to assist the State. Through their mandate, and drawing on the expertise within the institution, they are able to provide independent advice to support States meet their human rights obligations.

NHRIs can only be effective when their independence is supported and respected by States. Further, States have a responsibility to protect NHRIs from threats and reprisals of any kind.

What kind of threats do NHRIs face?

Threats, reprisals and other acts of intimidation against NHRIs can take a variety of forms, including:

  • Political pressure
  • Physical attacks or threats
  • Smear campaigns
  • Undue interference with the selection, appointment and dismissal process of members of an NHRI
  • Disproportionate budget cuts
  • Lack of recognition of the NHRI’s mandate
  • Lack of cooperation with the NHRI.

Reprisals and other acts of intimidation have occurred against individual NHRI members, including the Chairperson or Ombudsperson; against NHRI staff; and against the NHRI as an institution.

GANHRI will always act to protect the independence of NHRIs facing threats or reprisals for undertaking their work according to their mandate.

We have received, and expressed concern over, reports of reprisals and other acts of intimidation which NHRIs, their members and staff across all regions have faced for undertaking human rights work in accordance with their mandate, including as a result of their cooperation with the United Nations.

Where are attacks against NHRIs taking place?

Reprisals and other acts of intimidation against NHRIs are occurring in all regions and have been increasing in numbers, and intensity. They constitute a real and ever-growing threat to the independence and effectiveness of NHRIs.

They have been widely reported in the reports of the Secretary-General on NHRIs, and the Assistant Secretary General on cooperation with the United Nations.

This trend against NHRIs coincides with the global trend of shrinking democratic space in Member States across all regions, which has been widely documented by the UN, its bodies and mechanisms and civil society alike.

This timeline provides a selection of cases of NHRIs under threat as of 2015

Afghanistan

Killing of two staff members of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which followed the killing of another staff in 2019 and also previously in 2015.


Guatemala

Series of acts of harassment and intimidation that have affected the normal operations of the Procuradoría de los Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (NHRI of Guatamala) and the Procurador (Ombudsman) himself, since his appointment in 2017.


Philippines

Repeated threats towards the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, including through threat on budget cuts and attacks against the Chairperson.


Georgia

Repeated verbal attacks and public criticism against the work of the Public Defender’s office of Georgia by public officials and MPs.


Poland

Severe budget cuts and strict financial controls over activities that limited the independence and the action of the Poland’s Commissioner for Human Rights.


Maldives

Concerns over the legal proceedings brought against the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives by the Supreme Court that affect the independence of the NHRI in the fulfillment of its mandate.


The UN General Assembly calls upon States to promptly and thoroughly investigate cases of alleged reprisal or intimidation against members or staff of national human rights institutions or against individuals who cooperate or seek to cooperate with them and to bring perpetrators to justice.

Resolution on National Human Rights Institutions (A/RES/74/156) adopted 18 Dec.2019

Support from the United Nations

Against these alarming developments, the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have expressed concern over cases of reprisals and other acts of intimidation against NHRIs, their members and staff.

The General Assembly has also welcomed the Marrakech Declaration, adopted as outcome of the 13th International Conference of NHRIs which highlights that independent and effective NHRIs are also at risk of threats and reprisals and that recent reports of attacks against NHRI members and staff are extremely worrying.[1]

The Human Rights Council encouraged:

greater efforts to investigate and respond to increasing reports of cases of reprisal against national human rights institutions, their members and staff, and those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with them”.[2]

In its most recent resolution on national human rights institutions, adopted without a vote and with broad support from States across all regions, the General Assembly:

stresses that national human rights institutions and their respective members and staff should not face any form of reprisal or intimidation, including political pressure, physical intimidation, harassment or unjustifiable budgetary limitations, as a result of activities undertaken in accordance with their respective mandates, including when taking up individual cases or when reporting on serious or systematic violations in their countries, and calls upon States to promptly and thoroughly investigate cases of alleged reprisal or intimidation against members or staff of national human rights institutions or against individuals.[3]

Similarly, the UN Secretary General recently stressed that:

members and staff of national human rights institutions should enjoy immunity from civil and criminal proceedings for action taken in an official capacity. Member States are encouraged to take the measures necessary to protect them against threats and harassment. Any cases of alleged reprisal or intimidation against members and staff of institutions, or against individuals who cooperate or seek to cooperate with them, should be promptly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.”[4]

Reprisals and other acts of intimidation against NHRIs have also been documented in the Secretary General’s report on cooperation with the UN system, and by the Human Rights Council during the debate on the report.[5]

Cases of reprisals or other acts of intimidation against NHRIs have also been addressed by regional mechanisms. For example, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights has issued precautionary measures against states where NHRIs have been subjected to threats, calling on the states to ensure the NHRI’s protection.[6]

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[1] General Assembly resolution 74/156 on “National human rights institutions”, adopted on 18 December 2019.

[2] Human Rights Council resolution 39/17 on “National human rights institutions”, adopted in September 2018.

[3] General Assembly resolution 74/156 on “National human rights institutions”, adopted on 18 December 2019.

[4] Report of the Secretary General on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (A/74/226), para. 89.

[5] Report of the Secretary General titled Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights A/HRC/42/30.

[6] Bolivia : Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos otorga Medidas de protección a favor de Nadia Cruz Tarifa ( 27 de Diciembre del 2019) https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2019/340.asp; Ecuador:  Se encuentra en tramite la Medida de Protección cursada ante Comisión Interamericana. Portal Web de la Defensoría del Pueblo de Ecuador (12 de Febrero del 2020): https://www.dpe.gob.ec/la-federacion-iberoamericana-del-ombudsman-fio-expresa-su-apoyo-al-defensor-del-pueblo-de-ecuador-y-condena-ataques-y-amenazas-recibidas/

Key reports

UN Secretary General's report on 'Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights'

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