Role and functions

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are state-mandated bodies, independent of government, with a broad constitutional or legal mandate to protect and promote human rights at the national level. NHRIs address the full range of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Promoting and protecting human rights ©OSCE/ODIHR

NHRIs’ functions

  • Monitoring and investigating the human rights situation on the ground, such as freedom of expression and assembly
  • Reporting to international monitoring bodies such as the UN and Council of Europe
  • Providing support for individuals to enforce their rights, through complaints handling or legal assistance
  • Advising government, parliament and other public bodies to address core human rights concerns, as well as to eradicate all forms of discrimination
  • Ensuring the compliance of national laws and practices with all international human rights norms, including UN Treaties, the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
  • Publishing research, recommendations and opinions
  • Promoting a culture of rights, through training and awareness raising activities on a variety of issues, such as the right to adequate housing, health or education
  • Supporting the work of human rights defenders to combat issues such as torture, arbitrary detention, and human trafficking
  • Cooperating with NGOs, civil society, networks and regional bodies

NHRIs as a Bridge

  • A Bridge between Civil Society and the State
    As state-mandated bodies, independent of government, NHRIs sit between the state and civil society. NHRIs cooperate with a variety of civil society actors, and bring an accurate overview if the human rights situation, with recommendations, to governments, parliament and other state bodies.
  • A Bridge between the National and International Arena
    NHRIs all apply international human rights standards on the national level, with a full understanding of the local context. At the same time, they report to international and regional human rights mechanisms a true picture of the human rights situation on the ground.

NHRIs are unique as they are national institutions with a legal mandate to promote and protect human rights domestically in an independent manner. Contrary to other national institutions, NHRIs are accredited with an internationally accepted quality label, on the basis of their compliance with the Paris Principles.

As NHRIs continue to be established by governments in all continents of the world, their relevance increases to constitute globally accepted, local facilitators, of universal human rights standards. European human rights mechanisms also rely increasingly on NHRIs to provide trusted, credible and legitimate information on the human rights situations on the ground.

Paris Principles

The United Nations’ Paris Principles set out the minimum standards required by national human rights institutions to be considered credible and operate effectively. These are:

  • Establishment under primary law or the Constitution
  • A broad mandate to promote and protect human rights
  • Formal and functional independence
  • Pluralism, representing all aspects of society
  • Adequate resources and financial autonomy
  • Freedom to address any human rights issue arising
  • Annual reporting on the national human rights situation
  • Cooperation with national and international actors