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Affirming the work of NHRIs in times of crisis

Graphic: Monitoring staff from the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia

The APF has stressed the importance of NHRIs continuing to perform their monitoring, reporting and advisory functions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asia Pacific Forum LogoAsia Pacific Forum

The APF has stressed the vital importance of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) continuing to perform their monitoring, reporting and advisory functions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In COVID-19 and NHRIs in the Asia Pacific, the APF noted that the region is home to around 60% of the world's population, with a quarter of the population living in poverty.

"With underlying inequalities typically exacerbated during public health emergencies, NHRIs will maintain an essential role in mitigating the impact of the crisis on vulnerable and marginalised groups," the APF said in the paper.


NHRIs are expected to promote and ensure respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law in all circumstances and without exception.

Asia Pacific Forum Logo Kieren Fitzpatrick, Director, APF secretariat

In many countries across the region, governments have enacted states of emergency and imposed limits on freedom of movement to try and halt the spread of the virus.

"As the impact of emergency circumstances will always have a dramatic impact on the enjoyment of rights, especially on vulnerable groups, NHRIs are expected to act with a heightened state of vigilance in such circumstances," the APF said.

In solidarity with our members, the APF called on governments in the Asia Pacific to ensure that NHRIs "remain equipped and able to exercise their important monitoring, reporting and other functions" during this time.

In particular, the APF noted current government measures can have the potential to impact different aspects of the work of NHRIs including:

  • Freedom of movement restrictions, including restrictions on access to places of detention and other places where NHRIs gather information
  • Suspension of core government services, such as courts, and the closure of schools and higher education facilities, where NHRIs have ongoing engagement
  • Derogations from international human rights standards, which NHRIs have a responsibility to supervise to ensure their legitimacy and legality
  • Budgets and funding, which despite fiscal pressures, governments are obliged to maintain adequate funding for NHRIs.

Graphic: Staff from Iraq's NHRI inspect a juvenile detention facility


The APF noted that the COVID-19 pandemic also impacts the well-being of NHRI staff, with many encouraged or directed to work from home in recent weeks.

In these changed circumstances, NHRIs have a responsibility to consider and respond to the needs of female staff members and staff members with a disability.

Further, NHRI staff who continue to perform front line monitoring and client service functions will be at heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission.

"NHRIs must ensure that enhanced safe work measures are applied to protect staff in such circumstances," the APF said.

The APF also reaffirmed its commitment to support member institutions at this critical time.

"Like many of its member institutions, the APF has been affected by the travel restrictions imposed by governments in the region in response to the pandemic and is no longer able to travel internationally to visit members, or host regional in-person activities," the paper said

"During these restrictions, the APF is developing outreach and solidarity programs to stay connected with its membership."


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

"The work that you and your staff have played at the frontline in responding to these challenges has been inspiring. This has led to the identification of a number of good practices, and I encourage you to continue."

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Read the "aide memoire" to NHRIs on Human Rights and COVID-19


Image credits

  1. Monitoring staff from the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia - SUHAKAM
  2. Staff from Iraq's NHRI inspect a juvenile detention facility - IHCHR
  3. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet - Australian Human Rights Commission