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Working in partnership with civil society: Practice tips for NHRIs

Graphic: Participant at a special event at the UN on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities

  1. NHRIs are required by the Convention to work closely with persons with disabilities and their representative organisations.
  2. NHRIs and persons with disabilities both benefit from building genuine partnerships with each other.
  3. NHRIs need to plan how they will engage with persons with disabilities so that the experience is positive and productive.

NHRIs should seek to ensure that people with disabilities and their representative organisations play an active role in implementing and monitoring the operation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This level of engagement may be new or unfamiliar to NHRIs. However, involving people with disabilities is no longer optional. It is a requirement of the Convention.

Article 33(3) states that "civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully in the monitoring process".

While this would seem to restrict the input of civil society to 'monitoring' implementation of the Convention, NHRIs should also seek to include people with disabilities and their representative organisations in their promotion and protection activities.

How to involve people with disabilities?

There are many ways that NHRIs can involve persons with disabilities across all aspects of their operations, including:

  • Commissioners, to lead NHRI efforts to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities
  • Staff, to build the knowledge, skills and capacity of the organisation
  • Members of standing or ad hoc committees, to provide advice to the NHRI on planning and projects
  • Full participants in research, inquiries and investigations conducted by the NHRI
  • Monitoring partners, to support the design of monitoring frameworks and reporting to national parliaments and UN treaty monitoring bodies
  • 'Preferred contractors', when any contracts concerning the rights of persons with disabilities are outsourced by the NHRI
  • Beneficiaries of capacity building activities and funding programs.

Graphic: Celebrations in Kathmandu marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities


Benefits of involving persons with disabilities

Building deeper working relationships with civil society organisations has the potential to deliver significant benefits for NHRIs and for people with disabilities through:

  • Greater impact: Working with and through networks of people with disabilities will help NHRIs to amplify their impact.
  • Greater focus: Involving people with disabilities will help NHRIs ensure that they are focusing their efforts and resources on the issues that matters most.
  • Greater insight: People with disabilities can provide NHRIs with invaluable insights and expertise, especially in relation to identifying emerging issues and priorities and generating solutions that work.
  • Greater credibility: NHRIs will be better able to encourage other organisations to involve people with disabilities if they are seen as models of best practice.
  • Greater awareness: NHRIs will be better able to inform people with disabilities about their role, as well as assist individuals through, for example, providing advice, handling complaints and contributing to strategic litigation.

NHRI staff consult with people with disabilities, Samoa

NHRIs should carefully plan their approach to involving people with disabilities and their representative organisations so that it is a safe and positive experience for everyone.


Getting ready to involve persons with disabilities

NHRIs should carefully plan their approach to involving people with disabilities and their representative organisations so that it is a safe and positive experience for all parties.

Balance involvement with maintaining independence: Setting out clear terms of reference in relation to the proposed involvement will help NHRIs to manage the expectations of people with disabilities and demonstrate to others that such involvement does not compromise their independence.

Work with organisations 'of' persons with disabilities: NHRIs should always prioritise engagement with organisations that are led and run by people with disabilities, rather than organisations 'for' people with disabilities.

Reach out to 'hidden' voices: NHRIs should make strenuous efforts to reach out to marginalised groups within the disability community, such as people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities confined to institutions, disabled prisoners, people who are non-verbal and children with disabilities.

Offer 'open channels' of communication: NHRIs should consider how they can provide 'open channels' of communication for people with disabilities who may live in situations of vulnerability, such as psychiatric or social care institutions, or with abusive partners or family members,

Remunerate people for their time: People with disabilities can experience significant levels of financial disadvantage. They should not be expected to provide their advice and expertise for free or bear the costs of doing so.

Referrals to support and counselling: NHRIs should establish referral mechanisms to counselling and support services for people with disabilities, especially if they are engaging with victims of human rights violations,

Respect privacy and confidentiality: NHRIs will often review highly sensitive personal information when they are monitoring the human rights of people with disabilities. NHRIs must ensure that this is not shared with third parties without the informed consent of the individuals concerned.

Guard against reprisals: NHRIs should put in place protocols to guard against possible reprisals involving people with disabilities who cooperate with them or make complaints to them, especially those living in vulnerable situations.



Image credits

  1. Participant at a special event at the UN on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities - UN Photo/Amanda Voisard
  2. Celebrations in Kathmandu marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities - National Human Rights Commission of Nepal
  3. NHRI staff consult with people with disabilities, Samoa - Office of the Ombudsman of Samoa