Human rights are first and foremost to be addressed at the national level. National human rights institutions (NHRIs) play an important role in the human rights architecture at the national level. This report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), is intended to identify gaps and concerns in the fundamental rights architecture in the European Union.
In light of the low levels of reporting of discrimination and low rights awareness documented in its EU-MIDIS survey results, the FRA has looked into the mechanisms of redress available to victims of human rights violations in the EU. Having been discussed and developed for 40 years, agreement over what a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) should look like was reached in 1993 with the adoption of the Paris Principles. The Principles, adopted by the UN General Assembly, stipulate the essential criteria for a body to qualify as an NHRI, covering issues of competence, independence, and effectiveness. The work of NHRIs is grounded in the idea that human rights violations can be most effectively addressed as close as possible to the victim - at national level - rather than only through international monitoring mechanisms.
NHRIs do not enjoy sufficient political support in all Member States
In only 16 of the 27 EU Member States have NHRIs applied for international accreditation through the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of NHRIs, a self-regulating label for compliance with the Paris Principles.
NHRIs are not sufficiently independent and effective
Only in 10 of the Member States where the NHRIs have sought accreditation have the ICC found the NHRI to be in full compliance with the Paris Principles (covering competence, independence, and effectiveness)
Multiple bodies - gaps and overlaps
The existence in many Member States of several different independent public bodies with human rights remits contributes to a diffusion of resources and gaps in mandates. In some cases it also results in overlapping mandates. As a result, it is more difficult for those seeking redress to be sure where to turn. EU Member States without A-status NHRIs typically have a variety of bodies with widely differing mandates in place. Such bodies focus their work on a specific topic, a specific right, a specific target group or a specific function. In many cases, human rights education and awareness-raising, promotion of human rights treaties, or interaction with civil society - all of which are core functions of an NHRI - are either not explicitly stipulated in their founding instruments or are not carried out due to resource constraints. In particular, the lack of coordination between the bodies within a state leads to overlapping mandates and, consequently, to the omission of certain areas. This poses a major obstacle to the effective protection of human rights.
Weak mandates often lead to weakened credibility
In many Member States, the National Human Rights Institution is not mandated to deal with individual complaints. This might be so as to ensure a strong focus on the promotional aspects of human rights but if there is no other efficient mechanism for complaints, the credibility of the system is compromised.