What are national human rights institutions?

Graphic: NHRC officials talk with police

The APF provides the support our members need to be powerful agents for change.

NHRIs help drive changes – big and small – that make a lasting difference in the lives of individuals and that can strengthen the fabric of our communities.

Change can take many forms: such as removing discrimination in laws and policies, improving the practices of law enforcement and government officials, promoting better ways of doing business, and challenging negative stereotypes about vulnerable groups in the community.

National human rights institutions are independent bodies established to stand up for those in need of protection and to hold governments to account for their human rights obligations.

They also help shape laws, policies and attitudes that create stronger, fairer societies.

NHRIs are established by law or in the constitution, to promote and protect human rights in their respective countries.

However, they operate and function independently from government.

Strong and effective NHRIs help bridge the "protection gap" between the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of the State by:

  • Monitoring the human rights situation in the country and the actions of the State
  • Providing advice to the State so that it can meet its international and domestic human rights commitments
  • Receiving, investigating and resolving complaints of human rights violations
  • Undertaking human rights education programs for all sections of the community
  • Engaging with the international human rights community to raise pressing issues and advocate for recommendations that can be made to the State.

Graphic: Commissioner delivering presentation to public

The Paris Principles set out the minimum international standards required for NHRIs to effectively fulfil their role.

They include the need for a broad-based mandate; guarantees of independence; autonomy from government; pluralism of members and staff; adequate powers of investigation; and adequate resources.

A fundamental role of the APF is to advocate that new NHRIs in the region are established in compliance with the Paris Principles and that our members are able to do their work as effectively as possible.

The APF is one of four regional coordinating committees of NHRIs. Equivalent bodies have been established to support the NHRIs of Africa, the Americas and Europe.

At the international level, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions works to encourage the establishment and operation of independent NHRIs.


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Graphic: Staff of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission

Understanding national human rights institutions

This video series forms part of a comprehensive APF training package on the role and functions of independent national human rights institutions.


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Image credits

  1. NHRC officials talk with police - National Human Rights Commission of Nepal
  2. Commissioner delivering presentation to public - Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission