National human rights institution

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A national human rights institution (NHRI) is an independent institution bestowed with the responsibility to broadly protect, monitor and promote human rights in a given country. The growth of such bodies has been encouraged by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which has provided advisory and support services, and facilitated access for NHRIs to the UN treaty bodies and other committees.[1] There are over 100 such institutions, about two-thirds assessed by peer review as compliant with the United Nations standards set out in the Paris Principles. Compliance with the Principles is the basis for accreditation at the UN, which, uniquely for NHRIs, is not conducted directly by a UN body but by a sub-committee of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC). The secretariat to the review process (for initial accreditation, and reaccreditation every five years) is provided by the National Institutions and Regional Mechanisms Section of the OHCHR.[2]

NHRIs can be grouped together in two broad categories: human rights commissions and ombudsmen. While most ombudsman agencies have their powers vested in a single person, human rights commissions are multi-member committees, often representative of various social groups and political tendencies. They are sometimes set up to deal with specific issues such as discrimination, although some are bodies with very broad responsibilities. Specialised national institutions exist in many countries to protect the rights of a particular vulnerable group such as ethnic and linguistic minorities, indigenous peoples, children, refugees persons with disabilities or women.

However, in general terms national human rights institution have an explicit and specific human rights mandate and a broader mandate, which could include research, documentation and training and education in human rights issues, than the classical ombudsman model which tends to work on handling complaints about administrative deficiencies. While all human rights violations are maladministration, only a small proportion of the workload of an ombudsman deals with violations of human rights standards.[3]

In most countries, a constitution, a human rights act or institution-specific legislation will provide for the establishment of a national human rights institution. The degree of independence of these institutions depends upon national law, and best practice requires a constitutional or statutory basis rather than (for example) a presidential decree.

Nations human rights institutions are also referred to by the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action[4] and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[5]


Special commissions have been established in many countries to ensure that laws and regulations concerning the protection of human rights are effectively applied. Commissions tend to be composed of members from diverse backgrounds, often with a particular interest, expertise or experience in the field of human rights.

Human rights commissions are concerned primarily with the protection of those within the jurisdiction of the state against discrimination or mistreatment, and with the protection of civil liberties and other human rights. Some commissions concern themselves with alleged violations of any rights recognized in the constitution and/or in international human rights instruments.

One of the most important functions vested in many human rights commissions is to receive and investigate complaints from individuals (and occasionally, from groups) alleging human rights abuses committed in violation of existing national law. While there are considerable differences in the procedures followed by various human rights commissions in the investigation and resolution of complaints, many rely on conciliation or arbitration. It is not unusual for a human rights commission to be granted authority to impose a legally binding outcome on parties to a complaint. If no special tribunal has been established, the commission may be able to transfer unresolved complaints to the normal courts for a final determination.

NHRIs are usually able to deal with any human rights issue directly involving a public authority. In relation to non-state entities, some national human rights institutions have at least one of the following functions:

  • addressing grievances or disputes involving certain kinds of company (for instance state-owned enterprises, private companies providing public services,or companies that operate at the federal level)
  • addressing only certain types of human rights issue (for instance non-discrimination or labour rights)
  • addressing complaints or disputes raising any human rights issue and involving any company.[6]

Additionally they may promote and protect the responsibilities of the state and the rights of the individual by:

  • providing advice to the state to help determine its international and domestic human rights obligations and commitments
  • receiving, investigating and resolving human rights complaints
  • providing human rights education and publicity for all sections of society (particularly minority groups such as refugees)
  • monitoring the human rights situation in the state and its subsequent actions
  • engaging with the human rights international community to advocate for human right recommendations and to raise pressing issues for the state.[7]

Promoting and educating human rights may involve informing the public about the commission's own functions and purposes; provoking discussion about various important questions in the field of human rights; organizing seminars; holding counselling services and meetings; as well as producing and disseminating human rights publications.[7] Another important function of a human rights commission is systematically reviewing a government's human rights policy in order to detect shortcomings in human rights observance and to suggest ways of improving.[7] This often includes human rights proofing of draft legislation, or policies. The degree to which the recommendations or rulings produced by a human rights institution can be enforced varies based on the human rights climate surrounding the institution.

Human rights commissions may also monitor the state's compliance with its own and with international human rights laws and if necessary, recommend changes. The realization of human rights cannot be achieved solely through legislation and administrative arrangements; therefore, commissions are often entrusted with the important responsibility of improving community awareness of human rights.

According to the Paris Principles, the 'National human rights institutions' are obliged to make "preparation of reports on the national situation with regard to human rights in general, and on more specific matters"; and this is mostly done in annual status reports.[8]

Reason for establishing National Human Rights Institutions[edit]

The International Council on Human Rights Policy reported that NHRIs are established in three key ways: in countries that are experiencing conflict (usually internal like South Africa, Ireland or Spain), or to respond to claims of serious human rights abuses.[9] NHRIs can also be established as visual institutional security, as a body that is seen to be dealing with prevalent issues (such as seen in Mexico and Nigeria), or finally to underpin and consolidate other human rights protections (such as in Australia and New Zealand). National governments wanted to establish institutions which reflected their own opinions and cultural identity more effectively. In this regard they enable states to set their own agendas that reflect their individuality. The Commission on Human Rights passed resolutions in 1992 which recommended promotion of such institutions by government's that did not yet have any, and also promote the development of those that did.[9] At the end of the 20th Century the United Nations Commission would take over tasks that require international involvement. Regional human rights agreements also encouraged this development and establishment of human rights institutions as technical assistance was provided through international arrangements (such as the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions).[9]

NHRIs in some member states work at the international and regional level (such as in the European Union).[10] They may work as preventative mechanisms for non-discrimination of minority groups or international crimes (such as torture).[10] The authority and expertise that NHRIs customarily hold provides them the ability to promote equal treatment. Ultimately they are a useful tool in assisting states to comply with international rights standards by providing a uniquely objective perspective and addressing and resolving issues at the domestic level.[10]

Coupled with the United Nations, NHRIs are protecting and providing comprehensive and wide-ranging solutions. However some states are unwilling to give effect to these sanctions, and the United Nations is unable to conduct the widespread and analytical monitoring of countries. In order to be legitimate, effective and credible NHRIs must be independent and effective.[11] One of the most effective tools that NHRIs have is their unique position between the responsibilities of government and the rights of civil society and non governmental organisations (NGOs). This conceptual space gives NHRIs a positively distinctive role, acting as a different protection service for the people and different tools available to hold the state and other bodies accountable for human rights breaches.[11] However being independent from government and NGOs provides greater difficulty when funding, and working relationships are taken into account.[11] In most countries they receive government funding, and are also created and appointed by a governmental body.[11] This creates somewhat of a parallel obligation and taints the idea of the institutions autonomy and makes it harder to pursue their individual agenda.

Paris Principles[edit]

The Paris Principles were conceived at a 1991 conference convened by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.[10] Although the priorities and structure of them differ from country to country they have core features.[12] Part A.3 of the Paris Principles adopted in March 1993 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights provides that NHRIs responsibilities are to ratify human rights treaties and cooperation with human rights mechanisms. The workshop recommendations provide a basis for assessing the effectiveness and independence of a NHRI, identifying six key criteria for states seeking to establish such institutions or to become effective:

  • independence from government (allowing them to act as a check or balance)
  • independence granted from constitution or legislation (both financially and otherwise)
  • appropriate powers of investigation without referral from a higher authority or receipt of an individual complaint
  • pluralism, allowing them to coexist with the governing body
  • adequate financial and human resources
  • clearly defined and broad mandate including the protection and promotion of universal human rights.[13]

Those NHRI that fully comply with these fundamental criteria and have shown independence are accredited an "A status", while those that only partially fulfil them receive a "B status". Those that are given "A status" are allowed to participate in discussion on the United Nations Human Rights Council discussions and more broadly, its mechanisms. The Subcommittee on Accreditation determines the "status" of each NHRI which can be appealed to the Coordinating Committee's Chair within 28 days.[14] "C status" NHRIs are labelled as such due to a perception of non-compliance with the Paris Principles, but may still participate in gatherings as observers.[10] The Committee reviews these decisions every five years, giving the institutions multiple opportunities to show further independence or compliance with the Paris Principles. Aiming to be transparent, vigorous and thorough in its evaluations the Committee will provide advice on how best to earn "A status" and comply with the Paris Principles.

International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights[edit]

The International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC) is a representative body of institutions worldwide. Its goal is to develop and create effective and independent NHRIs around the world.[15] These institutions meet the "A status" (voting member) requirements of the Paris Principles and encourages inter-institutional cooperation.[15] In addition to organising international conferences for NHRIs it will also help those institutions in need of assistance and will occasionally help governments to create NHRIs when requested.[15]

International Ombudsman Institute[edit]

NHRIs can deal with a variety of issues including torture, discrimination, environment and employment rights.[11] In addition to Human Rights Commissions they can be constituted or legislated as ombudsman or Hybrid Human Rights Ombudsman.[11] The International Ombudsman Institute provides support for the national ombudsman institutions for human rights who similarly protect and promote human rights. They are more concerned with state administration processes and so receive and make complaints in regards to any systematic or administrative human rights breaches or concerns.[16]

International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs[edit]

The international Coordinating Committee of NHRIs was established in 1993 with a Bureau composed of one representative from the Americas, Asia Pacific, Africa and Europe.[17] The Coordinating Committee organises an annual meeting and a biennial conference that facilitates and supports NHRI engagement with the United Nations system.[17] At these gatherings NHRIs are able to share their expertise on specific topics and engage with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which acts as a Secretariat of the Coordinating Committee. In order to facilitate NHRI dialogue with civil society the Coordinating Committee also holds an NGO forum. The Coordinating Committee may also be asked by a government to assist in making a new NHRI or to develop on pre existing ones.[17]

Not all of the following NHRIs are accredited through the ICC.

Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
People's Advocate
National Human Rights Commission of Algeria
Justice and Rights Ombudsman (Provedor de Justiça e de direitos)
Antigua and Barbuda
Office of the Ombudsman
Public Defender (Defensoría del Pueblo de la Nación Argentina) (Ombudsman)
Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia
Australian Human Rights Commission
Austrian Ombudsman Board
Human Rights Commissioner
National Institution for Human Rights
National Human Rights Commission
Centre for equal opportunities and opposition to racism
Office of the Ombudsman
Bénin Human Rights Commission
Bermuda Ombudsman
Public Defender (Defensor del Pueblo)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina (pre-2003 cases)
Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina (current cases)
Bulgarian Parliamentary Ombudsman
Burkina Faso
National Human Rights Commission of Burkina Faso
National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Chad National Human Rights Commission
Ombudsman's Office of Colombia
Democratic Republic of the Congo
National Human Rights Observatory (DR Congo)
Republic of the Congo
National Human Rights Commission (Republic of the Congo)
Costa Rica
Defender of the Inhabitants (Defensoria de los Habitantes)
Office of the Croatian Ombudsman
National Institute for the Protection of Human Rights
Czech Republic
Public Defender of Rights (Czech Republic)
Danish Institute for Human Rights
Defensoría del Pueblo del Ecuador
National Council for Human Rights
El Salvador
Human Rights Procurator (Procuraduría de Defensa de los Derechos Humanos)
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission
Fiji Human Rights Commission
Parliamentary Ombudsman
Commission nationale consultative des droits de l'homme
National Human Rights Commission
Office of Public Defender of Georgia
German Institute for Human Rights (Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte)
Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice CHRAJ
Great Britain (UK)
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – see also Scotland
National Human Rights Commission (Εθνική Επιτροπή για τα Δικαιώματα του Ανθρώπου)
Procurator for Human Rights (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos)
Office of the Ombudsman
Office de la Protection du Citoyen
National Human Rights Commissioner (Comisionado Nacional de Derechos Humanos)
Hong Kong
Equal Opportunities Commission (Hong Kong)
Parliamentary Commissioner on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities (Hungary)
National Human Rights Commission (India)
National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM)
Defenders of Human Rights Center
Islamic Human Rights Commission
Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
Commissione per i Diritti Umani
Office of the Public Defender (Jamaica)
National Centre for Human Rights (Jordan)
Commissioner for Human Rights
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)
Korea, Republic of
National Human Rights Commission of Korea
Kosovo (Under United Nations Administration via UN Resolution 1244)
Ombudsperson Institution in Kosovo
Ombudsman of the Kyrgyz Republic
Rights' Defender
The Seimas Ombudsmen
Consultative Commission of Human Rights (Luxembourg)
Human Rights Ombudsman of Macedonia
National Human Rights Commission (Madagascar)
Malawi Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)
Human Rights Commission of the Maldives
Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme (Mali)
Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme, a la Lutte contre la Pauvreté et l’Insertion (Mauritania)
National Human Rights Commission (Mauritius)
National Human Rights Commission (Mexico)
Centre for Human Rights of Moldova
National Human Rights Commission (Mongolia)
Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Montenegro
National Human Rights Council
Myanmar (Burma)
Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
Office of the Ombudsman (Namibia)
National Human Rights Commission (Nepal)
Equal Treatment Commission (Netherlands)
New Zealand
Human Rights Commission (HRC)
Human Rights Procurator (Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos)
Nigerien National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties
National Human Rights Commission (Nigeria)
Northern Ireland (UK)
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC)
Norwegian National Human Rights Institution
Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen's Rights
National Commission for Human Rights, Pakistan
Defensoría del Pueblo de la República de Panamá
Defensoría del Pueblo de la República del Paraguay
Public Defender (Defensoría del Pueblo)
Commission on Human Rights (Philippines)
Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (ombudsman)
Provedor de Justiça
Puerto Rico
Oficina del Procurador del Ciudadano
National Committee for Human Rights (Qatar)
Ombudsman (Avocatul Poporului)
Commissioner on Human Rights in the Russian Federation
National Commission for Human Rights (Rwanda)
Saint Lucia
Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner (St Lucia)
Office of the Ombudsman
Scotland (UK)
Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) - see also Great Britain
Senegalese Committee for Human Rights
Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Serbia
Sierra Leone
Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone
Slovak National Centre for Human Rights
Human Rights Ombudsman (Slovenia)
South Africa
South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC)
Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission)
Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)
Public Protector
Defensor del Pueblo (Ombudsman)
Sri Lanka
National Human Rights Commission (Sri Lanka)
Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission
Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO)
Children's Ombudsman (Sweden) (BO)
Discrimination Ombudsman (Sweden) (DO)
Federal Commission against Racism (Switzerland)
Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (Tanzania)
National Human Rights Commission (Thailand)
Timor Leste
Office of the Provedor for Human Rights and Justice (Timor Leste)
National Human Rights Commission (Togo)
Trinidad and Tobago
Office of the Ombudsman of Trinidad and Tobago
Higher Committee on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Tunisia)
Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC)
Commissioner for Human Rights
United Kingdom
see Great Britain; Northern Ireland; Scotland
United States
United States Commission on Civil Rights
Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights (Ombudsman)
Defensoría del Pueblo (Venezuela)
Permanent Human Rights Commission (Zambia)

Regional groupings[edit]

Sub-national human rights institutions[edit]

Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
Equal Opportunity Commission (South Australia)
Equal Opportunity Commission (Western Australia)
Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland
Office of Anti-Discrimination Commissioner (Tasmania)
Human Rights Commission (Australian Capital Territory)
Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission
Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission
British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal
Ontario Human Rights Commission
United Kingdom
The three UK bodies (Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland) are listed above as they are each recognised as NHRIs.
Catalonia: Síndic de Greuges (Ombudsman)
South Korea
Provincial and Metropolis level
Provincial Human Rights Promotion Commission (South Chungcheong Province)
Provincial Human Rights Promotion Commission (Gangwon Province)
Seoul Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Ombudsman (Gwangju)
Citizen Council for Human Rights Promotion is advisory council for the Ombudsman
Ulsan Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Commission for Students, Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education
Human Rights Advocate for Students (Gyeonggi Province)
Human Rights Commission for Students, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education
Human Rights Advocate for Students (Seoul)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ICC web pages, including a listing of over 100 institutions]
  2. ^ OHCHR web page on NHRIs
  3. ^ [Birgit Lindsnaes, Lone Lindholt, Kristine Yigen (eds.) (2001) National Human Rights Institutions, Articles and working papers, Input to the discussions of the establishment and development of the functions of national human rights institutions The Danish Institute for Human Rights.] Find book here
  4. ^ Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Part II para 84
  5. ^ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 33
  6. ^ "National Human Rights Institutions". Archived from the original on 2010-11-08.
  7. ^ a b c "What are national human rights institutions? | Asia Pacific Forum". Retrieved 2017-09-10.
  8. ^ Paris Principles can be found here
  9. ^ a b c Cardenas, Sonia (2014-03-05). Chains of Justice: The Global Rise of State Institutions for Human Rights. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812245394.
  10. ^ a b c d e Handbook on the establishment and accreditation of National Human Rights Institutions in the European Union. Vienna: European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. 2012. ISBN 978-92-9192-993-1.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Smith, Anne (November 2006). "The Unique Position of National Human Rights Institutions: A Mixed Blessing?". The Johns Hopkins University Press. 28: 904–946.
  12. ^ "Paris Principles | Asia Pacific Forum". Retrieved 2017-09-10.
  13. ^ "Paris Principles | Asia Pacific Forum". Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  14. ^ "International Coordinating Committee". International Justice Resource Center. 2012-11-28. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  15. ^ a b c "Human Rights Commission :: National human rights institutions". Retrieved 2017-09-10.
  16. ^ "The IOI" (in German). Retrieved 2017-09-10.
  17. ^ a b c "International Coordinating Committee". International Justice Resource Center. 2012-11-28. Retrieved 2017-09-10.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]