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National human rights institutions


National human rights institutions

National human rights institutions (NHRIs) are administrative bodies set up to protect or monitor human rights in a given country. The growth of such bodies has been encouraged by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which has provided advisory and support services, and facilitated access for NHRIs to the UN treaty bodies and other committees.[1] There are over 100 such institutions, about two-thirds assessed by peer review as compliant with the United Nations standards set out in the Paris Principles. Compliance with the Principles is the basis for accreditation at the UN, which, uniquely for NHRIs, is not conducted directly by a UN body but by a sub-committee of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC). The secretariat to the review process (for initial accreditation, and reaccreditation every five years) is provided by the National Institutions and Regional Mechanisms Section of the OHCHR.[2]

NHRIs can be grouped together in two broad categories: human rights commissions and ombudsmen. While most ombudsman agencies have their powers vested in a single person, human rights commissions are multi-member committees, often representative of various social groups and political tendencies. They are sometimes set up to deal with specific issues such as discrimination, although some are bodies with very broad responsibilities. Specialised national institutions exist in many countries to protect the rights of a particular vulnerable group such as ethnic and linguistic minorities, indigenous peoples, children, refugees persons with disabilities or women.

However, in general terms national human rights institution have an explicit and specific human rights mandate and a broader mandate, which could include research, documentation and training and education in human rights issues, than the classical ombudsman model which tends to work on handling complaints about administrative deficiencies. While all human rights violations are maladministration, only a small proportion of the workload of an ombudsman deals with violations of human rights standards.[3]

In most countries, a constitution, a human rights act or institution-specific legislation will provide for the establishment of a national human rights institution. The degree of independence of these institutions depends upon national law, and best practice requires a constitutional or statutory basis rather than (for example) a presidential decree.

Nations human rights institutions are also referred to by the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action[4] and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities[5]


  • Functions of NHRIs 1
  • Regional groupings of NHRIs 2
  • Sub-national human rights institutions 3
  • Notes 4
  • See also 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Functions of NHRIs

Special commissions have been established in many countries to ensure that laws and regulations concerning the protection of human rights are effectively applied. Commissions tend to be composed of members from diverse backgrounds, often with a particular interest, expertise or experience in the field of human rights.

Human rights commissions are concerned primarily with the protection of those within the jurisdiction of the state against discrimination or mistreatment, and with the protection of civil liberties and other human rights. Some commissions concern themselves with alleged violations of any rights recognized in the constitution and/or in international human rights instruments.

One of the most important functions vested in many human rights commissions is to receive and investigate complaints from individuals (and occasionally, from groups) alleging human rights abuses committed in violation of existing national law. While there are considerable differences in the procedures followed by various human rights commissions in the investigation and resolution of complaints, many rely on conciliation or arbitration. It is not unusual for a human rights commission to be granted authority to impose a legally binding outcome on parties to a complaint. If no special tribunal has been established, the commission may be able to transfer unresolved complaints to the normal courts for a final determination.

NHRIs are usually able to deal with any human rights issue directly involving a public authority. In relation to non-state entities, some national human rights institutions have at least one of the following functions:

  • addressing grievances or disputes involving certain kinds of company (for instance state-owned enterprises, private companies providing public services, or companies that operate at the federal level)
  • addressing only certain types of human rights issue (for instance non-discrimination or labour rights)
  • addressing complaints or disputes raising any human rights issue and involving any company.[6]

The degree to which the recommendations or rulings produced by a human rights institution can be enforced varies based on the human rights climate surrounding the institution.

Another important function of a human rights commission is systematically to review a government's human rights policy in order to detect shortcomings in human rights observance and to suggest ways of improving. This often includes human rights proofing of draft legislation, or policies.

Human rights commissions may also monitor the state's compliance with its own and with international human rights laws and if necessary, recommend changes. The realization of human rights cannot be achieved solely through legislation and administrative arrangements; therefore, commissions are often entrusted with the important responsibility of improving community awareness of human rights.

According to the Paris Principles, the 'National human rights institutions' are obliged to make "preparation of reports on the national situation with regard to human rights in general, and on more specific matters;" and this is mostly done in annual status reports.[7]

Promoting and educating about human rights may involve informing the public about the commission's own functions and purposes; provoking discussion about various important questions in the field of human rights; organizing seminars; holding counselling services and meetings; as well as producing and disseminating human rights publications.

Not all of the following NHRIs are accredited through the ICC.

Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
People's Advocate
National Human Rights Commission of Algeria
Justice and Rights Ombudsman (Provedor de Justiça e de direitos)
Antigua and Barbuda
Office of the Ombudsman
Public Defender (Defensoría del Pueblo de la Nación Argentina) (Ombudsman)
Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia
Australian Human Rights Commission
Austrian Ombudsman Board
Human Rights Commissioner
National Human Rights Commission
Centre for equal opportunities and opposition to racism
Office of the Ombudsman
Bénin Human Rights Commission
Bermuda Ombudsman
Public Defender (Defensor del Pueblo)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina (pre-2003 cases)
Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina (current cases)
Bulgarian Parliamentary Ombudsman
Burkina Faso
National Human Rights Commission of Burkina Faso
National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Chad National Human Rights Commission
Ombudsman's Office of Colombia
Democratic Republic of the Congo
National Human Rights Observatory (DR Congo)
Republic of the Congo
National Human Rights Commission (Republic of the Congo)
Costa Rica
Defender of the Inhabitants (Defensoria de los Habitantes)
Office of the Croatian Ombudsman
National Institute for the Protection of Human Rights
Czech Republic
Public Defender of Rights (Czech Republic)
Danish Institute for Human Rights
Defensoría del Pueblo del Ecuador
National Council for Human Rights
El Salvador
Human Rights Procurator (Procuraduría de Defensa de los Derechos Humanos)
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission
Fiji Human Rights Commission
Parliamentary Ombudsman
Commission nationale consultative des droits de l'homme
National Human Rights Commission
Office of Public Defender of Georgia
German Institute for Human Rights (Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte)
Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice CHRAJ
Great Britain (UK)
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) - see also Scotland
National Human Rights Commission
Procurator for Human Rights (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos)
Office of the Ombudsman
Office de la Protection du Citoyen
National Human Rights Commissioner (Comisionado Nacional de Derechos Humanos)
Hong Kong
Equal Opportunities Commission (Hong Kong)
Parliamentary Commissioner on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities (Hungary)
National Human Rights Commission (India)
National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM)
Islamic Human Rights Commission
Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
Commissione per i Diritti Umani
Office of the Public Defender (Jamaica)
National Centre for Human Rights (Jordan)
Commissioner for Human Rights
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)
Korea, Republic of
National Human Rights Commission of Korea
Kosovo (Under United Nations Administration via UN Resolution 1244)
Ombudsperson Institution in Kosovo
Ombudsman of the Kyrgyz Republic
Rights' Defender
The Seimas Ombudsmen
Consultative Commission of Human Rights (Luxembourg)
Human Rights Ombudsman of Macedonia
National Human Rights Commission (Madagascar)
Malawi Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)
Human Rights Commission of the Maldives
Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme (Mali)
Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme, a la Lutte contre la Pauvreté et l’Insertion (Mauritania)
National Human Rights Commission (Mauritius)
National Human Rights Commission (Mexico)
Centre for Human Rights of Moldova
National Human Rights Commission (Mongolia)
Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Montenegro
National Human Rights Council
Myanmar (Burma)
Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
Office of the Ombudsman (Namibia)
National Human Rights Commission (Nepal)
Equal Treatment Commission (Netherlands)
New Zealand
Human Rights Commission (HRC)
Human Rights Procurator (Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos)
Nigerien National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties
National Human Rights Commission (Nigeria)
Northern Ireland (UK)
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC)
Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (Short-form name: SMR)
Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen's Rights
Defensoría del Pueblo de la República de Panamá
Defensoría del Pueblo de la República del Paraguay
Public Defender (Defensoría del Pueblo)
Commission on Human Rights (Philippines)
Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (ombudsman)
Provedor de Justiça
Puerto Rico
Oficina del Procurador del Ciudadano
National Committee for Human Rights (Qatar)
Ombudsman (Avocatul Poporului)
Commissioner on Human Rights in the Russian Federation
National Commission for Human Rights (Rwanda)
Saint Lucia
Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner (St Lucia)
Scotland (UK)
Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) - see also Great Britain
Senegalese Committee for Human Rights
Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Serbia
Sierra Leone
Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone
Slovak National Centre for Human Rights
Human Rights Ombudsman (Slovenia)
South Africa
South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC)
Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission)
Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)
Public Protector
Defensor del Pueblo (Ombudsman)
Sri Lanka
National Human Rights Commission (Sri Lanka)
Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission
Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO)
Children's Ombudsman (Sweden) (BO)
Discrimination Ombudsman (Sweden) (DO)
Federal Commission against Racism (Switzerland)
Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (Tanzania)
National Human Rights Commission (Thailand)
Timor Leste
Office of the Provedor for Human Rights and Justice (Timor Leste)
National Human Rights Commission (Togo)
Trinidad and Tobago
Office of the Ombudsman of Trinidad and Tobago
Higher Committee on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Tunisia)
Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC)
Commissioner for Human Rights
United Kingdom
see Great Britain; Northern Ireland; Scotland
United States
United States Commission on Civil Rights
Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights (Ombudsman)
Defensoría del Pueblo (Venezuela)
Permanent Human Rights Commission (Zambia)

Regional groupings of NHRIs

Sub-national human rights institutions

Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
Equal Opportunity Commission (South Australia)
Equal Opportunity Commission (Western Australia)
Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland
Office of Anti-Discrimination Commissioner (Tasmania)
Human Rights Commission (Australian Capital Territory)
Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission
Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission
British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal
Ontario Human Rights Commission
United Kingdom
The three UK bodies (Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland) are listed above as they are each recognised as NHRIs.
Catalonia: Síndic de Greuges (Ombudsman)
South Korea
Provincial and Metropolis level
Provincial Human Rights Promotion Commission (South Chungcheong Province)
Provincial Human Rights Promotion Commission (Gangwon Province)
Seoul Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Ombudsman (Gwangju)
Citizen Council for Human Rights Promotion is advisory council for the Ombudsman
Ulsan Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Commission for Students, Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education
Human Rights Advocate for Students (Gyeonggi Province)
Human Rights Commission for Students, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education
Human Rights Advocate for Students (Seoul)


  1. ^ ICC web pages, including a listing of over 100 institutions]
  2. ^ OHCHR web page on NHRIs
  3. ^ [Birgit Lindsnaes, Lone Lindholt, Kristine Yigen (eds.) (2001) National Human Rights Institutions, Articles and working papers, Input to the discussions of the establishment and development of the functions of national human rights institutions The Danish Institute for Human Rights.] Find book here
  4. ^ Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Part II para 84
  5. ^ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 33
  6. ^ "National Human Rights Institutions". 
  7. ^ Paris Principles can be found here

See also

Further reading

  • OHCHR (2010) National Human Rights institutions - History, Principles, Roles and Responsibilities(Professional Training Series No.4)
  • OHCHR (2009) Survey on National Human Rights Institutions
  • Anna-Elina Pohjolainen. (2006).The Evolution of National Human Rights Institutions. The Danish Institute for Human Rights.
  • Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. (2006). Human Rights Commissions: A Citizen’s Handbook, IInd Edition Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
  • International Council on Human Rights Policy. (2005) Assessing the Effectiveness of National Human Rights Institutions International Council on Human Rights Policy/Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Morten Kjærum. (2003). National Human Rights Institutions - Implementing Human Rights The Danish Institute for Human Rights
  • Donnelly, Jack. (2003). Universal Human Rights in Theory & Practice. 2nd ed. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press.
  • Birgit Lindsnaes, Lone Lindholt, Kristine Yigen (eds.). (2001) National Human Rights Institutions, Articles and working papers, Input to the discussions of the establishment and development of the functions of national human rights institutions The Danish Institute for Human Rights.
  • Shute, Stephen & Hurley, Susan (eds.) (1993). On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures. New York: BasicBooks.
  • Ignatieff, Michael. Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press.

External links

  • International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of National Human Rights Institutions - Official website for the ICC
  • UNHCHR Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
  • National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) Profiles (ACCESS Facility)
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