A national human rights institution (NHRI) is an independent and specialised institution promoting, protecting and monitoring human rights. Such institutions exist in a number* of countries. To become an NHRI, an institute must be compliant with the so-called UN Paris Principles. Just how compliant an NHRI is, is revealed by its status. It has either an A- or B-status or none at all. Sweden’s status is currently B.
An NHRI contributes to ensuring that human rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled in a given country. This means seeing to that laws and regulations are human rights compliant and applied in an effective way.
Among NHRIs, there are human rights commissions, ombuds-institutions, and institutes.
Have broad mandates
Director Morten Kjaerum, who took part in developing the institutions from the beginning of the 1990’s says that the NHRI mandates may vary, but in order to be compliant with the Paris principles it needs to be broad. They address all forms of discrimination, protect, and promote civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Depending on which issues are of concern in each society the NHRI will focus on different rights.
Carry out human rights education
NHRI’s undertake research, provide documentation, training and education in human rights. This also involves informing the public; arranging and engaging in discussions, dialogues, roundtables and meetings, as well as disseminating human rights publications.
To obtain an A-accreditation it is not compulsory for the NHRI to have the mandate to receive and address individual complaints. However, some NHRIs do receive, investigate, and resolve complaints.
NHRI’s can deal with any human rights issue directly that involves a public authority. They address as well as resolve issues at the domestic level. This makes NHRI’s useful tools in supporting states fulfilling international human rights standards.
A key function of an NHRI is to review a government’s legislation and policies to see if there are inadequacies in terms of human rights compliance. It may also suggest ways of improving.
Independent and objective
An NHRI is autonomous. As such, it operates independently from governments and provides an independent expert perspective.
In its independent role, the NHRIs constitute an essential link between government and civil society. This involves helping to ‘bridge the ‘protection gap’ between the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of the State’ (GANHRI).
Must be accredited
To become an NHRI, an institution needs to be accredited. An accreditation is possible if the institute complies with the UN Paris Principles. Depending on to which extent the institute adheres to these principles, an institute is assigned the status A or B.
The GANHRI (Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions), through its Sub Committee on Accreditation (SCA), is the organ reviewing and accrediting national human rights institutions.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) serves as the secretariat to the GANHRI and its SCA committee and is also the permanent observer on the committee.
Supported by the OHCHR
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has encouraged the growth NHRI’s and provides support and advice as well as makes it possible for NHRI’s to access UN treaty bodies and other human rights mechanisms.
Read more: A brief history of the NHRI’s
*As of November 2019, 124 NHRIs were accredited by the GANHRI:
– (A status) – 80 as being in full compliance with the Paris Principles
– (B status) – 34 as being not fully in compliance with the Paris Principles
– (C status) – 10 as being non-compliance with the Paris Principles