NHRI engagement with regional mechanisms
Updated by Kate Turner-Mann
NHRI engagement with regional mechanisms
What are regional human rights mechanisms?
“Regional arrangements play a fundamental role in promoting and protecting human rights. They should reinforce universal human rights standards, as contained in international human rights instruments, and their protection.”
Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)
The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights:
- Endorsed efforts to strengthen regional arrangements to increase their effectiveness,
- Stressed the importance of their cooperation with the UN human right activities, and
- Called for the establishment of regional and subregional arrangements where they do not already exist.
Regional human rights mechanisms have been established in the Africa, the Americas and Europe and complement the international architecture by taking into account regional considerations and issues. They play an important role in localising international human rights standards and reflecting the human rights concerns of the region.
A common feature of these regional mechanisms is that they help to review the human rights situation in a national context and fill gaps where the national mechanisms are inadequate. They can therefore provide another avenue for access to justice and remedies redress for human rights violations.
OHCHR have produced a non-paper on the principles of human rights mechanisms.
NHRI experiences in Latin America
How have NHRIs in the Americas engaged with their regional mechanisms?
The Organization of American States (OAS) was established in 1948 and consists of 35 State members. The OAS has a long history of engagement with NHRIs in the Americas, and the Inter-American Commission and Court.
NHRIs receive strong political support from the OAS who have recognised and promoted the important role of NHRIs as well as the need for their establishment, strengthening, active participation and sustained cooperative relations.
In 2008 the OAS adopted a resolution giving NHRIs the right to participate and speak in OAS human rights meetings”. This was followed by administrative and procedural considerations to facilitate and strengthen the active role of NHRIs in the OAS.
The OAS electoral missions have even coordinated activities with domestic NHRIs and supported the development of their electoral supervisory functions. The OAS have also facilitated NHRI interaction with the Inter-American human rights mechanisms, including its reform process.
NHRI engagement with the Inter-American Commission and Court includes:
- the submission of amicus curiae briefs,
- expert advice,
- preparation of compliance briefs,
- education of the mechanisms’ decisions, and
- monitoring of measures issued by the mechanisms.
NHRIs rely on the regional human rights mechanisms for guidance and to bolster their credibility and influence. At the same time, the regional mechanisms have relied on NHRIs as credible and effective interlocutors at the local level.
The Inter-American Court has Inter-Institutional Agreements of Cooperation with NHRIs.
In 2018, the Inter-American Commission and NHRIs signed a Declaration of Commitment for Technical Cooperation, agreeing to:
- Generate coordinated exchange processes,
- Broaden the channels for independent NHRI participation in the Commission’s mechanisms,
- Develop technical cooperation projects,
- Annual working meetings,
- Identify work themes, and
- Undertake joint measures.
NHRI experiences in Europe
NHRIs have engaged with the European regional mechanisms in various ways.
In relation to the European Court of Human Rights. NHRIs have also submitted third party interventions to the European Court of Human Rights. In 2021, ENNHRI (the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions) made such an intervention on climate change and human rights in the case of KlimaSeniorinnen v. Switzerland. It will be one of the first climate cases to be decided by the Court.
NHRIs are also involved in the monitoring and implementation of European Court of Human Rights judgements.
NHRIs provide advice and recommendations to State authorities on the implementation of Court judgements. They can also submit communications to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe who are responsible for supervising the execution of Court judgements.
ENNHRI describes NHRI efforts at the national and international level to implement European Court of Human Rights judgements as complementary and work as a continuing cycle.
The outcomes of national efforts to promote the implementation of Court judgements can be used as input for international advocacy efforts. Conversely, the outcomes of international advocacy can influence and strengthen efforts at the national level.
NHRIs also regularly meet with the COE Commissioner for Human Rights who organises exchanges of views on important topics and uses information provided by NHRIs when preparing country visits and reporting.
The Commissioner also comments on the situation of NHRIs in specific countries and the need to establish them where they do not exist.
The Commissioner has specifically called for a “concrete alliance” with NHRIs and the need for “an effective cooperation system with them, to foster the implementation of European human rights standards. … The co-operation aims to establish continuous exchange of relevant information in order to improve reciprocal and common actions to share information about successful practices.”
In recent times, European NHRIs have focused on strategic and systematic engagement to strengthen regional processes.
This has included engaging with the EU rule of law monitoring cycle.
“Information on the extent to which NHRIs are able to independently and effectively fulfil their mandate is internationally recognized as an important rule of law indicator. Furthermore, reporting by NHRIs on the human rights situation on the ground – one of the core elements of their legal mandate – contributes to reflect a more accurate picture of the rule of law environment of each state, with a view to improving the rule of law situation across Europe. This, in turn, can lead to stronger impacts of follow up action to drive progress in the national rule of law and human rights environment and towards a stronger regional and global system for human rights and democracy.”
NHRI monitoring of the rule of law situation in their countries helps European policy makers reach a more comprehensive and informed assessment of the situation in each state. Check out the ENNRHI state of rule of law report here - New ENNHRI report highlights the state of rule of law in Europe - ENNHRI
The formal recognition of NHRIs - as key actors and beneficiaries … has led to increased attention by regional actors on the need to support and cooperate with NHRIs, and ensure their meaningful participation.
NHRI experiences in Africa
The 1986 Banjul Charter requires States to “allow the establishment and improvement of appropriate national institutions entrusted with the promotion and protection of … rights and freedoms”. The Charter also require the African Commission to “encourage national and local institutions concerned with human and peoples’ rights and … give its views or make recommendations to Governments.”
Since 1998, NHRIs can obtain “affiliate status” with the African Commission, enabling them to take part in its public sessions and submit activity reports.
The significant role of NHRIs was also recognised in the Commission’s 2010 Principles and Guidelines on the Implementation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. NHRIs can also play a role in enhancing the Commission’s activities, including awareness raising.
The Principles and Guidelines recognised that NHRIs:
- Play a significant role in the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights, and that states should establish effective NHRIs which meet the standards set by the Paris Principles
- Should be involved in the development and monitoring of implementation policies, including the setting of national benchmarks and indicators.
Despite these developments, there has been limited NHRI engagement with the African Commission, which is yet to reach its full potential.
A 2015 survey showed that NHRIs were disconnected and detached from the work of the African Commission and the Court due to NHRI:
- Capacity constraints,
- Lack of understanding of the workings of the African Court, and
- Uncertainty about their mandate and whether it required monitoring and implementation of the Court’s decisions.
Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI)
Recommendations were made to:
- Familiarise NHRIs with the work of the African Court.
- Increase NHRI participation with the African Court.
- Improve information flow between NHRIs and the African Court.
- Develop mutual understanding of the roles of NHRIs and the African Court, including their complementarity and synergies at the national level.
In 2016, the NANHRI, together with the African Commission and Court, developed guiding principles for NHRI follow up and monitoring of the Commission and Court’s findings and decisions.
Guidelines final English Version.pdf (bristol.ac.uk)
The African Commission has also taken further steps to engage NHRIs. In 2017, the Commission adopted a Resolution setting out a new criteria for the granting of affiliate status to NHRIs.
In 2020, the African Commission organised a panel to explore ways to improve the relationship and increase cooperation between NHRIs and the Commission, to fulfil their common mandates of promoting and protecting human rights in Africa.
Panellists emphasised that the success of the African Commission depended on the critical role played by NHRIs and resources should be allocated to nurture and reinforce the relationship between NHRIs and the Commission.
"I am very delighted and commend NANHRI for the launch of this ... important platform that feeds the work and assessment of national human rights commissions on the state of human rights in Africa into the session of the African Commission, hence elevating our collaboration a notch higher... I also welcome the critical role of national human rights institutions, which have shown the value of their monitoring, investigation and reporting works."
"I wish to ... reaffirm the important role that they continue to play as a link between the regional human rights system and human rights protection and promotion on the ground in our countries."
Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
NANHRI has resolved to keep working towards fostering the relationship between NHRIs and the African regional human rights mechanisms.
"The Network wishes to reiterate the prime importance of the collaboration between NHRIs and the regional human rights mechanisms towards the attainment of a continent characterised by human rights culture and justice for all."
“It will therefore continue to actively and concretely engage with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and seek its support in ensuring that national human rights institutions exploit their potential and mandate to the fullest at the regional level and that they are part and parcel of the processes and outcomes at the regional level."