United Nations and National Human Rights Institutions
- Historical Background of National Human Rights Institutions
The emergence of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) as an idea coincides with the period following World War II. In this context, this issue was first brought to the agenda within the UN Economic and Social Council in 1946, two years before the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and member states were called to form information groups or local committees on human rights.
In 1978, the UN Human Rights Commission held a seminar and prepared a guide on the functioning and structure of human rights institutions to be established at the national level. This Guide has been expanded over the years by the Commission and the UN General Assembly. Member states that have not yet established a national institution were invited by the UN General Assembly to establish an institution(s) to work on this issue as soon as possible.
In 1991, an international workshop on "National Institutions for The Protection and Strengthening of Human Rights" was organized and the framework for the status of NHRIs was established, and this framework was adopted under the name of the Paris Principles at the 1993 Vienna Human Rights Conference.
- Paris Principles
The Paris Principles, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 1993, is a basic text setting the framework for the qualifications that NHRIs should have.
The importance of the Paris Principles comes from determining the structure and function of NHRIs, as well as giving these institutions a basis of legitimacy and credibility. For this reason, it is imperative that NHRIs to be established at the national level should comply with the Paris Principles in order to have the expected effect.
Within the framework of the Paris Principles, NHRIs are expected to have the following characteristics:
- Having a legal or constitutional or legislative basis for its establishment,
- Independence and autonomy from the government,
- Having broad mandate and competence to protect and promote human rights,
- Ensuring pluralism and independence in the selection and appointment of members,
- Adequate financial resources and financial autonomy,
- Acting as bridge between civil society and the state.
- The Role and Types of NHRIs
NHRIs are public institutions established for the protection and promotion of human rights at the constitutional or legislative basis. Although they are part of the public administration, they are independent from the government in terms of their operation.
Although their fields of work are diverse; raising awareness on human rights, providing information, monitoring and reporting developments at the national level and violations of rights, supporting the protection and promotion of human rights within the framework of the conventions to which their country is a party to and other relevant international and national legislation, carrying out studies to ensure the effective implementation of the conventions to which their country is a party to at the national level, reviewing the relevant legislation from a human rights perspective, optionally evaluating individual applications, are the main fields of work of these institutions.
NHRIs are also institutions designed to act as bridges between national institutions and international organizations, and between government and civil society. Likewise, these institutions are expected to bridge the protection gap between the protection of individual rights and the obligation of the state to protect individuals.
It is possible that there is more than one institution and organization working on human rights at the national level; however, the fact that they are active in this field does not make these institutions as an NHRI. The acceptance of an institution as an NHRI depends on its compliance with the Paris Principles and whether it is designated as a “National Human Rights Institution” at the legal or constitutional level.
Currently, there are six types of NHRIs common throughout the world. These can be listed as follows:
- Human Rights Commission,
- Hybrid Institutions,
- Consultative and Advisory Bodies,
- Institutes and Centers and
- Multiple structures
Accordingly, there may be more than one institution at the national level, depending on the needs and administrative structure of the member state. In our country, the only institution designated as NHRI is the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey.
- Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) and European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI)
- a) GANHRI (formerly ICC- International Coordinating Committee for NHRIs) is an international network of NHRIs from all over the world.
Established in 1993, GANHRI supports NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles and works for the protection and promotion of human rights.
GANHRI generally works in the following areas:
- Facilitating and supporting the relations of NHRIs with the UN Human Rights Council and Convention Mechanisms,
- Strengthening the relationship and cooperation between NHRIs,
- Ensuring that NHRIs are accredited in accordance with the Paris Principles,
- Strengthening the role of NHRIs in the UN system,
- Carrying out capacity building activities for NHRIs in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
- Providing assistance to NHRIs at risk,
- Supporting governments willing to establish an NHRI upon request.
Within GANHRI, 128 NHRIs operate within four regional networks: Europe, Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas.
Our institution is part of the European Network of NHRIs (ENNHRI).
- b) ENNHRI is an organization established to support NHRIs operating across Europe in the context of Paris Principles. Its aim is to help strengthen the capacities of member states, develop interstate cooperation, strengthen contacts and relations with regional and international organizations.
Apart from that, ENNHRI works in the fields of democracy and rule of law, business and human rights, communicating human rights, rights of older persons, rights of persons with disabilities, economic and social rights, asylum and migration, sustainable development goals and human rights in (post) conflict through working groups.
ENNHRI has 47 member states across Europe that include all accredited NHRIs in the region. Of the 47 members, 25 are from the European Union member states and 40 are from the Council of Europe member states. The European Network carries out its activities based in Brussels.
- Accreditation Procedure
Accreditation is a procedure carried out within GANHRI for the visibility, acceptance and voting and speaking rights of NHRIs at the international level, and its purpose is to determine the compliance of the national institution with the Paris Principles.
According to the GANHRI Statute (the official document regulating the functioning of the Global Network), the unit that will accredit national institutions according to their degree of compliance with the Paris Principles is the Sub-committee on Accreditation (SCA). The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is the permanent observer of the Accreditation Subcommittee and carries out the Committee’s Secretarial Affairs. Sub-committee on Accreditation meets twice a year in Geneva.
According to the GANHRI Statute, regional representation is given importance in the selection of SCA members and candidates are nominated from institutions accredited at A status. The elected members are obliged to act as independent, objective and impartial experts. Elected members serve for three years.
The Paris Principles have identified six basic criteria that NHRIs must meet. The SCA also examines whether these criteria are met when examining applications for accreditation. These criteria are:
- Legal or constitutional basis and legal basis for the autonomy of the institution,
- Being independent from the government,
- Having broad powers and competence to protect and strengthen human rights,
- Pluralism (representation of different segments of society in decision-making and personnel),
- Adequate financial resources and financial autonomy,
- Sufficient authority to investigate violations has been granted.
As of 2022, GANHRI is composed of 120 members: 88 “A” status NHRIs and 32 “B” status NHRIs.
Within ENNHRI (European Network), out of 46 member Institutions, 31 of them are accredited A status, 8 of them are accredited B status and 7 of them are non-accredited.
‘A status’ NHRIs are considered as being in compliance with the Paris Principles. These organizations can participate in all national and international meetings on national human rights institutions at a level to vote. They can also attend all meetings of the Human Rights Council and take the floor on any agenda item.
NHRIs accredited with ‘B status’ can participate as observers in international meetings on national human rights institutions. However, they are not given NHRI badges and cannot speak at meetings of the Human Rights Council.
Non-accredited institutions do not have any privileges in UN human rights forums.
The accreditation process is reviewed every five years. In this sense, Institutions are required to resubmit the required documents to the SCA every five years and to comply with the Paris Principles and SCA’s recommendations.
- Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey and Accreditation Process
In Activity 1.2.a. of the Human Rights Action Plan (2021-2023), which was shared with the public on March 2, 2021, the structure of HREIT should be harmonized with the UN Principles on the Status of National Human Rights Institutions and within 1 year, the Global Network of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) accreditation has been set as a goal.
In line with the relevant target, it was decided to start the preparations for the accreditation process to GANHRI and to carry out the necessary studies by the Human Rights and Equality Board Decision dated 13.07.2021 and numbered 2021/170.
In order to initiate the accreditation process at GANHRI, it is necessary to apply with a statement of intent to the Accreditation Subcommittee (SCA) Secretariat within GANHRI. In this context, the relevant declaration of intent was submitted to the SCA Secretariat by our Agency in an official letter on 28 July 2021. In addition, other supporting documents such as the Institution Law, Regulations, the document declaring compliance with the Paris Principles, the Annual Report and the Strategic Plan were submitted to the SCA Secretariat in Geneva on 1 June 2022.
After the completion of the written phase of the accreditation process, our Chairperson Prof. Dr. Muharrem Kılıç and the accompanying delegation held an online meeting with SCA members on October 3, 2022.
It is stated that it has been decided to accredit our Institution in B status in the official letter sent by the SCA Secretariat on October 10, 2022.
Decision of the Accreditation Subcommittee on granting 'B' status;
It means that the relevant institution is recognized as a National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI), therefore it has the opportunity to attend the international and regional meetings of the NHRIs.
It will have the opportunity to submit parallel reports to UN Bodies and the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism (UPR) of the Human Rights Council.
The accreditation process is the basis for the work of NHRIs. Indeed, accreditation;
It provides evidence that NHRIs are a credible and independent actor.
It enables NHRIs to improve their work by reflecting and acting on the recommendations of the SCA.
It assists NHRIs in applying the Paris Principles in their national context.
It helps ensure institutional independence, pluralism, effectiveness, and accountability.
The accreditation process is a process that needs to be renewed periodically; It aims to evaluate the compliance of NHRIs with the Paris Principles. If the recommendations are fulfilled, it will be possible to apply to the Committee again in order to be accredited with A status.