What are national human rights institutions?

Graphic: NHRC officials talk with police

Upholding the rights and dignity of those who are marginalised or forgotten. This is the role of an effective national human rights institution.

National human rights institutions (NHRIs) work to build fair, just and inclusive communities where each person especially can live with dignity, free from violence and discrimination.

Unlike other parts of the world, there is no regional protection system in the Asia Pacific that people can turn to when their rights are violated. This makes the role of NHRIs in our region even more critical.

For some people, NHRIs are the first and only avenue where they can seek justice.

NHRIs 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 are established by law, or in the constitution, with powers to promote and protect human rights. Importantly, they operate independently from government.

They are uniquely positioned to make change happen by:

  • Monitoring the human rights situation in the country and making their findings available to the public
  • Providing advice to government so that laws and policies reflect national and international human rights standards
  • Receiving, investigating and resolving complaints so that victims of human rights violations can seek redress
  • Delivering human rights education programs that help change attitudes and behaviour
  • Engaging with the international human rights community to raise pressing issues and advocate for recommendations that make a difference back home.

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 supports 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