International and Regional Engagement
NHRIs are increasingly involved at international and regional human rights systems.
UN Human Rights Council
NHRIs with ‘A’ status can participate with the Human Rights Council process in a growing number of ways. NHRIs are able to submit written reports, make oral statements at Council sessions, organize side events, and even “intervene immediately” after their Member State to respond to Special Procedure reports on human rights in their home country. NHRIs that are compliant with the Paris Principles are further able to submit prerecord video messages in relation to agenda items at Council sessions, in lieu of an oral statement. Moreover in June 2011, the UN General Assembly resolved that NHRIs can nominate special procedures mandate holders.
In Resolution 5/1 (2007), the Human Rights Council also specifically affirmed the role for NHRIs to attend the Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of their country and help implement UPR recommendations, noting. NHRIs with ‘A’ status can participate in the Human Rights Council’s UPR in the same manner as at other Council sessions. NHRIs may also request the Coordinating Committee representative in Geneva to make a statement on their behalf if the NHRI is unable to attend.
UN Treaty Bodies
NHRIs can interact with treaty bodies like the Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee in a variety of ways. First, NHRIs are well-positioned to influence their country’s government to ratify human rights treaties, and engage with the treaty bodies’ reviews and recommendations in a timely manner. Also, NHRIs – like civil society generally – can submit information directly to the treaty body to ensure that human rights issues in their country receive international attention.
Moreover as a key link between domestic civil society and the government, NHRIs are well-placed to help train organizations about how to effectively research and prepare reports for presentation to treaty bodies, while also potentially coordinating among civil society to avoid duplicate reports. NHRIs can further help draft or provide feedback on the government’s report to treaty bodies. Some treaty bodies, like the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, even allow NHRIs to participate in informal committee meetings, giving the NHRI the opportunity to have a direct dialogue with the Committee before it issues general observations or recommendations to a county.
Several treaty bodies have issued guidelines addressing NHRIs’ role. These are the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Regional Human Rights Bodies
Member States of the Council of Europe subscribe to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Council’s values that foster the rule of law, democracy, and individual liberty. In 2006, a former European Commissioner for Human Rights noted the rise of NHRIs – particularly ombudsmen offices, their ability to play a meaningful role in advancing human rights, and urged governments to ensure NHRIs are adequately funded so that they have the necessary independence to operate effectively. The Council’s current Commissioner for Human Rights is developing a system through which the Council and European ‘A’ status NHRIs can work together to promote human rights. The Commissioner further helps establish NHRIs where they are lacking, and organizes regular meetings and discussions for NHRIs to share knowledge and experience.
Similarly, African NHRIs contribute to the African Commission on Human Rights, which interprets and hears complaints related to the African Convention on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Members can attend the Commission’s public sessions and have the responsibility of actively promoting human rights at the national level and promoting awareness about the Commission.
NRHIs located in the Americas can work with the Organization of American States (OAS), including the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, both of which interpret and help enforce the American Convention on Human Rights and other regional human rights agreements.
In 2008 the OAS General Assembly recognized through Resolution 2411 that NHRIs contribute to promoting and protecting human rights and carved out clear roles for them in the OAS system. The OAS acknowledged the work of sub-regional NHRI association in the Americas and affirmed its continuing support of them. More generally, the OAS General Assembly “reiterate[d] its support for the politically, administratively, and financially independent work of the ombudsmen … and human rights commissioners in the countries of the Hemisphere, in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Resolution 2411 further encourages Member States to establish NHRIs where lacking and to support and strengthen existing NHRIs through government and regional dialogues that include NHRIs. The General Assembly also called on the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council to include NHRIs in a dialogue with OAS Member States to discuss human rights issues.