Bringing human rights home: National human rights institutions and the Human Rights Council


Paris Principles compliant national human rights institutions (NHRIs) can play a pivotal role in bridging the implementation gap between universal human rights norms and standards and their full realisation in-country. More can be done at the Human Rights Council to ensure their effective engagement, says Katharina Rose.

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By Katharina Rose, Geneva Representative for the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions

The UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 founding the Human Rights Council (the Council) provides a visionary commitment to close cooperation with national human rights institutions (NHRIs). Whilst over the years important strides have been made in forging such cooperation, the tenth anniversary should serve as opportunity to renew and reinforce the Council's commitment to NHRIs and to identify measures to maximise the Council's ability to draw on the unique contribution that NHRIs can make to its work.

NHRIs are established as independent institutions with a broad legal or constitutional mandate and powers to protect and promote human rights. Their establishment and operations are guided by the United Nations Paris Principles, adopted by the General Assembly in 1993.

Paris Principles compliant NHRIs can play a pivotal role in bridging the implementation gap between universal human rights norms and standards and their full realisation in-country. This role of NHRIs is widely accepted and acknowledged. The General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have continuously welcomed and further encouraged NHRI contributions to, and participation in, the work of the Council and its various mechanisms.

Practices and arrangements have evolved to allow for the independent participation of NHRIs in the work of the Council. They are distinct from, yet complementary to, those of States and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). When the Council reviewed its operations five years after its establishment, it decided to strengthen NHRIs participation and make their contributions, particularly to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Special Procedures, even more visible.

In line with their Paris Principles-based mandates and functions, NHRIs contribute to the work of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms in a number of ways:

  • They provide the Council and its mechanisms with credible, independent and evidence-based information about the domestic application of international human rights norms, standards and recommendations, with reliable analysis about areas where progress has been made and where implementation challenges remain.
  • They increase awareness by national-level institutions and actors of the work of the Council and boost their involvement with it, thereby helping to make the Council more relevant and accessible to the national and grassroots level, including rights-holders themselves.
  • They support the Council's work in developing international human rights treaties and other norms and standards, such as the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, by coordinating input through their global voice, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI).
Ensuring the effective engagement of NHRIs

Whilst it is clear that NHRIs have an enormous potential in contributing to the Council's work and maximising its impact on human rights in-country, it is important to ensure NHRIs have sufficient resources and orientation to do so as effectively as possible. Three provisions are essential in this regard.

Firstly, NHRIs’ capacity to engage with and through the Council to strengthen human rights on the ground.

Many NHRIs are still building their capacities on how to use their diverse functions to engage with the Council effectively. GANHRI and its four regional networks work to build the capacity of NHRIs, through training, peer support and the exchange of good practice between its members. Many similar initiatives are under way, including by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), yet much more could be done.

As increasing expectations are being placed on NHRIs, there is also a need to advocate collectively for NHRIs in all regions and all national contexts to have sufficient powers and resources to respond to this welcome recognition. This is key to the efforts of GANHRI and its regional networks, and a responsibility that the Council and the international community clearly share.

The second essential item is space; that is, an environment in which NHRIs and civil society have meaningful opportunities to engage with the Council and other UN mechanisms.

The Council has developed practices and arrangements to engage with NHRIs and important achievements have been made, for example with the provision for webcasts and video statements. However, further efforts could make the Council and its mechanisms more accessible to national-level stakeholders, including NHRIs. This should include all stages of the Council's work: from reporting on national situations, to the development of recommendations, and to follow-up, monitoring and assessment of progress made at the country level.

Thus, the Council would also implement the General Assembly's landmark resolution on NHRIs of December 2015, which calls on all relevant UN mechanisms and processes ‘to further enhance the participation of national human rights institutions compliant with the Paris Principles’.

The third item is protection. The international community has been concerned by reported acts of reprisals or acts of intimidation against persons cooperating with the international human rights mechanisms. This has included NHRIs, their members and staff. Whilst both the General Assembly and the Council in their respective NHRI resolutions have taken a clear stance against reprisals and other acts of intimidation against NHRIs, it will be important for the Council – and the broader UN system – to develop a common and coordinated approach to most effectively address and respond to the issue, and prevent such cases from occurring in the future.

Looking ahead, the Council must be encouraged to continue to forge stronger partnerships with national institutions as vital components of the global and national human rights protection systems. Thus, NHRIs can help the Council fulfil the call of the Vienna World Conference of Human Rights: to bring human rights home.



  • United Nations
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Universal Periodic Review
  • National Human Rights Institutions