ODIHR and National Human Rights Institutions

National human rights institutions are bodies that work at a national level to promote and protect human rights, set up as a bridge between the international community and the domestic realization of human rights and a bridge between government and civil society. The support to NHRIs is at the core of our work and it is very firmly rooted in OSCE commitments. We build their capacity through our annual National Human Rights Institutions Academy for NHRIs from the entire OSCE region but also through other fora. We are monitoring bodies, we scrutinize what governments, what parliaments do and for that you need independence. We are only bound by human rights – that is our standard, that’s what we apply in our work. We help the states to implement their obligations towards all human beings and their countries. Independence is essential to our legitimacy. One of the things that we need to do is to make critique of governments and we need to be held to account by society and by the international community. In order for us to do that effectively we need to be independent and we need to be perceived to be independent. Work with the National Human Rights institutions was conceived as part of the Copenhagen Document back in 1990 and OSCE/ODIHR has played a strong role in supporting NHRIs. Unfortunately in today’s environment we are painfully reminded that independence of National Human Rights institutions is not a given, and as the populist and authoritarian and illiberal tendencies grow, so grow the risks for the independent mandate of the national human rights institutions. We support NHRIs by providing legal opinions at their requests on draft or existing laws that they would like to see whether these laws are compliant with the international standards and international human rights framework. We also provide for up for NHRIs to meet in exchange and support each other, which is critically important. This conference has been very very important as a platform for us to discuss and come together and bring together some good practice but also to discuss some of the challenges. One of the things that’s required by the Paris Principles – the UN principles that provide the standard for all NHRIs is adequacy of funding. This is extremely important that states have an obligation to provide adequate funding. Without this adequate funding it’s very very difficult to do the job effectively. One of the challenges that many of us face is that states, governments and parliaments don’t understand the role of the national human rights institution. We are there to show what obligations the states have under human rights and that is of course something that states or political actors may consider to be political, so they they may attack institutions, saying they are political and not doing their work. But indeed human rights is about the freedom of everyone to live their lives as they want to live their life and that is in a way political. At the same time what we are doing is not political because we don’t have a political agenda, we have the agenda to make sure that everyone can enjoy their human rights. So that’s a misunderstanding and that is where the independence of NHRIs then may become threatened by various measures by state. A number of participating states in the OSCE still don’t have A-status NHRIs. The outcome document of this conference will give us something to take back to our own states and to secure our independence and argue strongly for it. Independence needs to be lived within states. The independence has to be respected and defended by other actors – by parliaments, by the media, by civil society – and here ODIHR can play an important role to address those actors and help them understand their role as defenders and guardians of the independence of an NHRI.

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