Summary version now available
21 January 2021

Strong and effective national human rights institutions – challenges, promising practices and opportunities

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are a vital part of the country-level human rights protection system. This report, published 10 years after FRA’s first in-depth study on NHRIs, looks at such bodies in the EU, as well as the Republic of North Macedonia, the Republic of Serbia, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It explores relevant developments, challenges to their effectiveness and ways to maximise their impact.

The findings in this report underscore that, to fulfil their potential, NHRIs need a clear mandate, independence, adequate resources, and, in their memberships, to reflect our societies’ diversity. They also need to comply with the Paris Principles on the independence and effectiveness of NHRIs endorsed by the United Nations.

The FRA opinions are clustered under the following six headings, highlighting key aspects identified in this report.

  1. Paris Principles-compliant A-status NHRIs in all EU Member States;
  2. Enhanced roles for NHRIs in the EU – independent fundamental rights monitoring;
  3. Impactful and secure institutions;
  4. Independent NHRIs;
  5. Institutions reflecting diversity – in an environment conducive to human rights;
  6. Adequately resourced NHRIs.
Key findings

This report looks at the importance of national human rights institutions (NHRIs, or the institutions) in promoting and protecting human rights at both national and EU levels. Given that the overwhelming part of national law- and policymaking is directly or indirectly influenced by EU law, NHRIs – with their broad mandates to promote and protect human rights – could play a greater role in the EU. The report highlights efforts that could be made to strengthen the institutions to increase their impact and efficiency and describes the challenges they face. It identifies ways forward for NHRIs to play a more significant role in the context of fundamental rights protection in the EU.

During the 10 years since FRA, in its first report on NHRIs, examined the institutions as part of the emerging fundamental rights architecture of the EU, the number of Paris Principles-compliant NHRIs has risen from nine to 16, among the current 27 EU Member States. An additional six EU Member States have NHRIs that are not fully compliant with the principles. Consequently, all but five EU Member States (Czechia, Estonia, Italy, Malta and Romania) have NHRIs. Developments are also under way in those five countries to accredit institutions and to achieve compliance with the Paris Principles. An important development since FRA’s 2010 report on the institutions is the establishment of the European Network of NHRIs (ENNHRI). This network supports, strengthens and connects NHRIs, providing advice on establishment and accreditation, peer exchange and capacity building, solidarity, and joint engagement with the EU and other mechanisms.

The EU has never legislated on issues dealing with NHRIs but, in its 2014 Regulation (EU) No. 235/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2014 establishing a financing instrument for democracy and human rights worldwide, it acknowledged the NHRIs’ key relevance by explicitly committing itself to supporting NHRIs in non-EU countries. In addition, the Paris Principles are referenced in the FRA Regulation. An explicit and operational involvement of bodies promoting fundamental rights in the implementation of EU law is included in the proposed revised Common Provisions Regulation for EU funding programmes. NHRIs are regularly referred to in the debate on EU rule-of-law mechanisms. NHRIs could also be more involved in EU strategies and frameworks, in relation to issues such as the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) or reporting on the rule of law. The existence of strong, effective and independent NHRIs across all EU Member States is a precondition for achieving their full potential in an EU context. 

FRA Opinions