FRA Director makes keynote speech on the integration of national human rights bodies

FRA Director Morten Kjaerum held the keynote speech at a conference entitled 'Bridging the divide – integrating the functions of national human rights institutions and national equality bodies in the European Union' at University College London on 15 March 2013.

The speech emphasised that the EU’s economic crisis has led to an increase in poverty, bringing uncertainty to many people’s lives and potentially leading to a greater number of human rights violations. In this context, extremist parties have also succeeded in boosting their popularity by scapegoating a number of already vulnerable groups. While financial austerity requires streamlining, this must not and need not impede access to justice. One solution is to merge national human rights bodies that until now have been separate.

What is often referred to as Europe’s ‘fundamental rights landscape’ has become increasingly integrated and sophisticated, for example through the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights; increased informal recognition of the importance of National Human Rights Bodies (NHRIs) in the EU system; and the further integration and mergers of NHRIs, ombudsperson institutions and national equality bodies.

There are a number of advantages to be gained from having larger, more integrated organisations. Firstly, they have the potential to be more influential and have a greater impact on policy developments. Secondly, a single larger institution is usually better known, and is often easier and less confusing for victims of fundamental rights abuses to turn to. Thirdly, despite the many disparities between different areas of human rights, the issues that emerge from them are often similar to each other. So by covering a number of them, a synergy can be achieved by an integrated human rights body that is able to draw on different forms of expertise and find new ways forward.

However, any future human rights bodies created from institutions that have so far been separate must maintain their independence; be sure of adequate funding; be in a position to combat inequality effectively; and at the same time be able to focus on broader human rights issues. The speech concluded by stressing the fact that most important is to ensure the newly merged institutions serve and benefit the people of Europe.