13 September 2013
By Chairperson Lourence Mushwana, Chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee for National Institutions promoting and protecting human rights (ICC)
I am honoured to address you today in my capacity as the Chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee for National Institutions promoting and protecting human rights (ICC).
This event commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the UN Paris Principles is of special significance to me and the ICC membership.
I would like to sincerely thank the National Human Rights Commission of Korea for hosting this important event and for presenting me with this rare opportunity to address this august gathering.
I also wish to acknowledge the presence of Ms Rosslyn Noonan the former ICC Chairperson who together with the APF Network worked hard to build the ICC to where it is today.
Twenty years ago following the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which ‘affirmed the important and constructive role’ of NHRIs, the UN General Assembly endorsed the UN Paris Principles as the international minimum standards for NHRIs to effectively fulfil their role.
That same year, the ICC was established as the international NHRI network co-ordinating the work of NHRIs.
The UN Paris Principles serve as benchmarks against which the credibility and effectiveness of NHRIs are measured.
The six main criteria for the establishment of national human rights institutions as espoused by UN Paris Principles are that a national human rights institution:
Should have a mandate “as broad as possible”, based on universal human rights standards and including the dual responsibility to both promote and protect human rights, covering all human rights;
Should be independent from government;
Should have its independence guaranteed by constitution or legislation;
Should have adequate powers of investigation;
Should adopt pluralism in its structures including through the constitution of its membership and/or effective cooperation with other institutions; and
Should have adequate human and financial resources.
Notwithstanding the prescriptive nature of the UN Paris Principles, there is neither a universally accepted ideal ‘model’ of an NHRI nor a recognised standard structure.
Indeed, the UN Paris Principles do not dictate any particular model or structure for an NHRI, with the result that NHRIs vary depending on the legal and political traditions of a state.
The UN Paris Principles’ broad approach was endorsed by the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993), which recognises the right of each State to choose the legal framework for establishing an NHRI that is “best suited to its particular needs at the national level.”
The Paris Principles do, however, provide for minimum standards and characteristics which should be in place irrespective of the model chosen.
Across the regional networks of the ICC, there are a number of different models of NHRIs such as: Consultative or advisory commissions which are particularly active in raising awareness and providing recommendations to their respective governments.
Human rights commissions have a broader set of powers beyond advising; they also carry out investigations or strategic litigation in appropriate circumstances.
Some institutions generally have a strong scientific foundation and focus on providing advice to government and parliament on policies and legislation as well as monitoring and providing human rights education.
Ombudsperson institutions are typically single-member institutions, appointed in terms of a particular legislation of each country, which deal mainly with individual legal protection, focusing on handling maladministration and service delivery related complaints.
For further information on the history, role and models of NHRIs the 2010 UNDP-OHCHR Toolkit for collaboration with NHRIs serves as a good source of knowledge.
Since the adoption of the UN Paris Principles, we have witnessed an exponential growth in the number of NHRIs from a handful in the 1990s to just about 104 in 2013, of which 69 are accredited with ‘A-status’, that is to say that they are fully compliant with the Paris Principles.
Paris Principles compliant NHRIs play a distinct and significant role within the human rights system as a bridge between States and civil society actors and serve as key domestic partners to the UN and its mechanisms.
NHRIs have a unique mandate and it is therefore best placed to voice the needs and aspirations of people from all levels of communities struggling to define their rights and to have them observed and respected.
Further, NHRIs with A status now have the capacity to engage directly with the UN Human Rights Council and they have also infused their voices into key human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
The ICC is supported by four Regional Networks. Through the ICC and regional networks NHRIs continue to seek opportunities that will ensure that their role would be taken into account to ensure effective implementation of human rights norms and standards.
The ICC works in cooperation with the National Institutions and Regional Mechanisms Section (NIRMS) of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help States establish NHRIs in line with the UN Paris Principles.
The ICC further plays a key role in strengthening NHRIs through the promotion of best practices.
Support in establishing and strengthening NHRIs, includes technical and legal assistance, in particular on constitutional or legislative frameworks regarding the establishment, nature, functions, powers and responsibilities of institutions; comparative analysis; technical cooperation projects; and needs assessments.
In order for an NHRI to be accredited as compliant with the Paris Principles and therefore able to participate in some of the UN structures it must first be subjected to a rigorous peer review process which is a litmus .
The ICC is the only non UN body that is empowered to make decisions on accreditation that give direct recognition within the UN structures.
The peer review process of accreditation is robust, and serves to protect the integrity and legitimacy of all NHRIs and to maintain the status of NHRIs within the UN system.
Credit must of course be given to those members of NHRIs who sit on the Sub-Committee on Accreditation, whose expertise and dedication safeguard the system, while at the same time recognising that it can be a challenge for new NHRIs to successfully navigate through the rigorous accreditation process.
The ICC recently and through its Sub Committee on Accreditation took steps to improve its peer-review accreditation process of NHRIs by developing three new general observations that address:
the assessment of the performance of NHRIs,
the assessment of NHRIs are National Preventive Mechanisms set up in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; and
The quasi-judicial competency of NHRIs
These aim at ensuring more rigorous, fair and transparent accreditation of NHRIs against the UN Paris Principles.
In particular, the new general observations work to ensure the role of civil society in providing information on the performance of NHRIs at a national level.
The ICC is committed to continued efforts to ensure the credibility of its members as independent and effective promoters and protectors of human rights.
As we take stock of key achievements since the adoption of the UN Paris Principles and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action we must also acknowledge the challenges that demand the continued attention of the international community.
In May this year, I attended the Vienna + 20 conference organised by the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs in cooperation with the OHCHR.
In commemoration of the adoption of the VDPA, the conference sought to pinpoint current challenges; and present best practices in the promotion and protection of human rights at the national, regional and international level.
The common thread in the discussions of the conference emphasised the increasingly complex world in which we live in and the need for the human rights community to challenge itself and to break through new frontiers.
The conclusions from the three Working Groups affirmed that as independent bodies with broad mandates and core functions in line with the UN Paris Principles:
NHRIs can be instrumental in ensuring that victims of human rights violations are provided with a form of redress that restores their sense of dignity.
NHRIs are well positioned to promote gender equality and combat policies and practices that discriminate against, and violate the rights of women and girls.
This was affirmed in the Amman Declaration and Programme of Action, the outcome document of the 11th International conference of NHRIs on the theme women and girls´ human rights and gender equality, held in Amman in November last year.
This document affirms NHRIs´ commitment to give priority to women´s political and public participation; advancing women´s economic and social rights; responding to violence and discrimination against women and girls; and addressing women´s health and reproductive rights.
NHRIs are well positioned to play an important role in shaping and implementing the post 2015 development agenda.
However, the realisation of NHRIs´ commitments to these priorities rests in large part on state initiatives to establish and strengthen independent and effective NHRIs in line with the UN Paris Principles.
As we reflect on the past to chart our future, let us be reminded by the words of Nelson Mandela.
‘After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb’.