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Requirements for an effective investigations team

Graphic: NHRI officer inspects a prison


  1. NHRIs must be – and must be seen to be – independent and impartial.
  2. Powers to conduct investigations should be set out in the NHRI’s establishing legislation.
  3. NHRIs need adequate resources to conduct investigations in a timely manner.
  4. NHRI investigations teams should reflect the diversity of their communities.

INDEPENDENCE

NHRIs have a mandate to promote and protect human rights, including through the investigation of human rights violations by both State and non-State actors.

Powers to conduct effective investigations should be set out in the NHRI's establishing legislation.

To ensure that their investigations, recommendations and decisions are seen as credible and are respected, the NHRI must be – and must be seen to be – independent.

NHRIs can demonstrate their independence by:

  • Locating their premises away from organisations they may investigate, such as government buildings, military bases or police or security forces
  • Ensuring control over the employment of staff, including having its own recruitment, retention and promotion processes
  • Having access to independent legal advice, either through hiring in-house counsel or retaining outside lawyers.

If the NHRI operates in a jurisdiction that has Freedom of Information laws, it is important that the application of those laws does not adversely impact on the real or perceived confidentiality of the NHRI and the integrity of its investigative process.

IMPARTIALITY

Investigators must be impartial and be seen to be impartial. The investigation will be compromised if anyone involved in it, or anyone observing it, concludes that the investigator:

  • Is biased toward one party or the other
  • Has made up their mind prior to completing the investigation.

An investigator should maintain a professional relationship with everyone associated with an investigation. However much empathy an investigator may feel, it cannot be reflected in the way the investigation is conducted.


Graphic: NHRI staff interview a patient in a hospital


INVESTIGATIVE POWERS

The Paris Principles state that the NHRI should have the power to "freely consider any questions falling within its competence" and to "hear any person and obtain any information and any documents necessary for assessing situations falling within its competence".

To do so, the NHRI needs clear and unambiguous powers to collect evidence and to conduct investigations. Ideally, an NHRI should have the following powers:

  • Identify and frame any issue(s) as the NHRI deems fit
  • Conduct "own motion" (suo moto) investigations
  • Summons or subpoena witnesses
  • Compel evidence under oath
  • Right to speak to any person relevant to its inquiry
  • Right to enter any premises to further an investigation
  • Right to obtain documents and other relevant evidence.

ADEQUATE RESOURCES

Investigations cost money, regardless of who does them. NHRI investigations are no different. NHRIs need enough resources to be able to do them within a reasonable time.

People: An NHRI needs a sufficient number of investigators and support staff to meet its obligations. This may include managers, legal officers, administrative officers, technicians, translators and other experts.

Equipment: Investigators should be suitably equipped to maximise their productivity. The equipment they need can include laptop computers, digital voice recorders, badges, digital cameras, mobile phones and other communication devices.

Expenses: Investigators working in the field will require sufficient support and resources. Funding may be required to cover the cost of travel and accommodation, experts, translators, transcribers, office space and so on.

A failure to provide sufficient resources can mean that investigations are not done thoroughly or within a reasonable time. This can undermine the credibility and reputation of the NHRI and potentially lead to expensive and lengthy follow-up investigations, reviews and inquiries.


Graphic: NHRI staff talk with an indigenous family


TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE

NHRIs are commonly required to investigate serious violations of human rights. It is difficult and important work, which requires a high level of skill and competence. The investigators who undertake this work must, therefore, be suitably trained and experienced.

NHRI investigators should receive regular training. While there are limited tertiary-level training programs available, there are online and face to-face courses to support the work of human rights investigators.

In addition to formal training, in-house induction and mentoring programs – where new NHRI investigators receive support from more experienced partners – can be very beneficial. These programs are most effective when they are structured and substantial.

New investigators in NHRIs that conduct regular investigations will generally be exposed to a broad range of cases in a short amount of time and gain the experience necessary to graduate to more serious cases.

DIVERSITY

As far as possible, the NHRI's investigations team should reflect the diversity of the community in which it operates. This means striving for gender balance within the investigations team, as well as including people from diverse cultures, ethnicities, ages, abilities and backgrounds.

Diversity makes the investigations team more effective by promoting access to and acceptance by different groups; by broadening the team's skill base; and by increasing its ability to engage constructively with all parties to the investigation.



Image credits

  1. NHRI officer inspects a prison - APF
  2. NHRI staff interview a patient in a hospital - National Human Rights Commission of Nepal
  3. NHRI staff talk with an indigenous family - Human Rights Commission of Malaysia