National Human Rights Institutions

National Human Rights Institutions

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Commonwealth Secretariat
01 Jan 2001
9781848597778 (PDF)

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This book explains the role, background and issues surrounding the establishment of National Human Rights Institutions. It brings together the experience of NHRIs across the Commonwealth and serves as a useful guide.

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  • Introduction

    Commonwealth countries are committed to the principles outlined in the 1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration. Drawing on the International Bill of Rights, Commonwealth Heads of Government have committed themselves and their countries to work with renewed vigour for the protection and promotion of the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth.

  • Mode of Establishment

    The process of establishing an NHRI is as important as the actual creation of the institution. The establishment process, whether initiated by government or by civil society, must be transparent and include all relevant actors. It is essential that all stakeholders “buy-in” to the establishment process if the NHRI is to have the trust and confidence of both government and the people.

  • Composition of National Institutions

    There are two absolutely necessary features for an NHRI to function effectively:(i) high-quality members and staff; and (ii) independence. Individual members should possess the requisite expertise, integrity, experience and sensitivity to adequately protect and promote human rights. NHRIs must be free to perform their mandates and functions without outside restraint or improper influence.

  • Mandate and Powers

    NHRIs should possess the mandate and power to promote, protect and secure human rights. Broad mandates afford the possibility of greater rights protection and thus are preferable. This is especially relevant for those countries with constitutions that define rights or human rights so narrowly as to afford limited,if any protection against attempts by the government or other actors to impinge on the human rights of citizens.

  • Accountability and Relationships with Other Institutions

    NHRIs exist to serve the public, and accordingly, the public should have a mechanism for assessing how effectively an NHRI is performing its mandate. Public assessment requires that NHRIs evaluate their own programmes regularly and include the results of such evaluations in their annual reports. The evaluations undertaken by NHRIs should analyse all of their functions, including the resolution of complaints, the prevention of human rights abuses, as well as the promotional and educational aspects of their work.

  • Accessibility

    An NHRI must be readily accessible to its clients - those individuals and groups whose rights it has been established to promote and protect. In this respect, it is essential to recognise that many of the most important clients - those who are most in need of help - will often be difficult to reach through standard channels of communication. It is important that the location of offices does not deter clients from filing complaints.

  • Significant Issues

    In a time of a war or civil strife, the functions performed by NHRIs become even more necessary. NHRIs find it extremely difficult to protect human rights in coflict situations and thus should work in co-operation with other actors, for example, NGOs and other relief organisations, to fortify their position as a protector of human rights.

  • Factors which Affect the Operation of National Human Rights Institutions

    NHRIs thrive best in an environment where other national democratic institutions are robust and there is a high degree of human rights literacy. NHRIs are most effective when the nation's democratic institutions operate with a clear understanding of their own roles and functions, when the nation's institutions understand the roles and functions of other democratic national institutions and when the public can command and demand respect for human rights.

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