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The United Nations General Assembly established the Paris Principles in 1993 as a set of criteria for evaluating both NHRIs’ independence from government interference and their effectiveness in promoting and protecting human rights.
The Paris Principles require States to give an NHRI “as broad a mandate as possible, which shall be clearly set forth in a constitutional or legislative text, specifying its composition and its sphere of competence.” Their mandate should include a number of responsibilities with the ultimate goal of promoting and protecting human rights, including:
- Submitting of recommendations, opinions, proposals and “reports on any matters concerning the promotion and protection of human rights,” either on their own initiative or at the government’s request;
- Meeting on a regular basis;
- Establishing working groups and regional or local sections, as necessary to achieve their goals;
- Consulting with other entities that are responsible for protecting and promoting human rights, including entities in the UN system; and
- “Develop[ing] relations with the non-governmental organizations devoted to promoting and protecting human rights, to economic and social development, to combating racism, to promoting particularly vulnerable groups”
Governments may also choose to mandate NHRIs with certain quasi-judicial functions and responsibilities that include informing petitioners of their rights and remedies, hearing individual complaints and petitions and issuing advisory or even binding decisions, and “[m]aking recommendations [on legal reforms] to the competent authorities.”
The individual members of a NHRI can be appointed, elected, or selected through a variety of means, but they should be representative of the country’s demographics. To this end, the Paris Principles stipulate that key stakeholders in civil society, including human rights NGOs, trade unions, related professional organizations, and universities, should all be involved the selection of individual NHRI members. The involvement of government departments should be limited to advisory roles to safeguard the NHRI’s independence. Additionally, a standard period should be clearly established for a NHRI member’s term of service, in order for members to have greater autonomy and stability which will allow them to more effectively promote human rights.