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Fact Sheet 4: Responsibilities and functions of NHRIs: Providing advice

Graphic: Inmates in a prison cell

  1. NHRIs provide advice to support the effective promotion and protection of human rights.
  2. NHRIs can provide advice to any institution, agency or person – governmental or non-governmental – relevant to a particular human rights issue of concern.
  3. NHRIs should follow up on their advice, advocate for it, monitor it and report on its implementation.

The Paris Principles state that advising government, parliament and other stakeholders is one of the key responsibilities of a national human rights institution (NHRI). In fact, it is the first and most detailed responsibility set out in the Paris Principles.

Under the Paris Principles, an NHRI should be able to:

"To submit to the Government, Parliament and any other competent body, on an advisory basis either at the request of the authorities concerned or through the exercise of its power to hear a matter without higher referral, opinions, recommendations, proposals and reports on any matters concerning the promotion and protection of human rights".

As the Paris Principles make clear, the purpose of an NHRI's advisory function is to promote and protect human rights.

NHRIs seek to achieve this goal by providing advice to any institution, agency or person – within government or outside the government – who can help improve the human rights situation by making changes to, for example, laws, policies and practices.


Graphic: An officer from Nepal's NHRI supports local communities after the 2015 earthquake


INITIATING ADVICE

An NHRI will generally develop advice on a human rights issue:

  • At the request of the parliament, the government, a court or another official institution
  • In response to or following investigation of a complaint of human rights violation
  • On its own initiative (suo motu) in response to an issue brought to its attention.

The NHRI should not require approval from any authority or institution in order to commence an inquiry and provide advice. It should be able to decide for itself what it does, how it does it and what advice it provides. [1]

DEVELOPING ADVICE

The areas for investigation and advice by NHRIs are potentially unlimited. For example, NHRIs may provide advice on human rights that arise in relation to: any existing or proposed law; any public policy or program; any acts and practices of private and civil society organisations and persons; any situation or incident; any place or location; or any individual or group of persons.

The human rights issues they may consider can be similarly vast, including in relation to employment, health, education, due process in courts, conditions in detention, freedoms of speech, belief, movement and assembly, and so on.

However, NHRIs only have limited resources. Therefore, in undertaking their advisory role, they need to set clear priorities and adopt good strategies, drawing on sound research and consulting broadly with all relevant stakeholders.

NHRIs can include in their advice an analysis of the human rights issue or situation, as well as their findings and recommendations to address human rights violations or potential violations.


[1] The establishing legislation may, however, require the NHRI to act on all complaints of human rights violations and on all formal referrals from the government.


Graphic: National inquiries can result in advice being provided to a broad range of stakeholders


RESPONDING TO ADVICE

NHRIs are independent State institutions with significant human rights expertise. They are entitled to expect that their advice will be carefully considered by those to whom it is addressed.

Recipients of the NHRI's advice are generally not required by law to accept and implement the advice and recommendations. They may accept all the advice, part of it or none of it. However, each recipient should respond formally to the NHRI and give reasons for their decisions on the recommendations.

If the NHRI released its original advice publicly then the recipient of the advice should also release their response publicly, after taking time to consider the advice and the recommendations.

FOLLOWING UP ON ADVICE

NHRIs should follow up on their advice, advocate for it, monitor, and report on its implementation.

Regular monitoring of advice and recommendations is essential so that NHRIs can identify progress that has been made, as well as any gaps in implementation. This data can guide efforts by NHRIs to lobby government and other stakeholders.

The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions urges NHRIs to "publicise detailed information on the measures taken or not taken by public authorities in implementing specific recommendations or decisions".[1]

This information could, for example, be included in the NHRI's annual report or a special report, published on its website, included in press releases or shared with civil society.

Monitoring by NHRIs increases transparency and accountability in the implementation process. It is also a powerful advocacy tool that can increase pressure on States to implement recommendations.

GOOD PRACTICE

The advisory responsibilities or functions of an NHRI should be set out in the establishing law so there is a clear and specific mandate.

The law should provide a broad framework for the function, including how it can be initiated, to whom advice can be provided, what kind of advice can be provided and what the response to advice should or could be.


[1] Sub-Committee on Accreditation General Observations, as adopted in Geneva in May 2013, GO 1.6.


FIND OUT MORE

Chapter 12, A Manual on National Human Rights Institutions (APF, revised 2018)


Image credits

  1. Inmates in a prison cell - APF/Michael Power
  2. An officer from Nepal's NHRI supports local communities after the 2015 earthquake - National Human Rights Commission of Nepal
  3. National inquiries can result in advice being provided to a broad range of stakeholders - Office of the Ombudsman of Samoa