GANHRI 2017: NHRIs’ contribution to a peaceful, healthy society is essential

Participants at the GANHRI2017

NHRIs, essential bodies for promoting and protecting human rights at both national and international levels, come together from across the world in Geneva every March on the occasion of their Annual Meeting and Conference to share experience and expertise.

GANHRI 2017, the first meeting under the new name of the Global Alliance of NHRIs, opened on Monday, 6 March, with the GANHRI Bureau meeting and regional meetings. Events continued throughout the week with a knowledge exchange session on selected thematic issues, the GANHRI General Meeting on 7 March, and a Conference on NHRIs in conflict situations on 8 March. A joint event with UNICEF on NHRI’s work to protect children’s rights concluded the series.

NHRIs facing an increasingly challenging environment for human rights

Presenting the activities of the European NHRIs, ENNHRI’s chair, Lora Vidović noted that, in Europe, like the other regions, NHRIs are facing an increasingly challenging environment for human rights. Key concerns continue to be human rights violations in relation to migration, economic and social rights, counter-terrorism measures, and conflict situations.

We have also witnessed a contraction of democratic space in many states, with impacts on freedom of expression and assembly, and threat to some basic infrastructure for the rule of law. Therefore, it is not surprising that ENNHRI has had an incredibly busy period since the Bureau last met in Berlin last October. Lora Vidović, ENNHRI Chair.

ENNHRI’s General Assembly gathered later on the day to assess and discuss the latest developments in the network and explore the activities foreseen in 2017, which is a strategic planning year for ENNHRI. On this occasion, European NHRIs warmly welcomed the newest member of the European network, the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation.

“Having the ENNHRI meeting at the beginning of GANHRI 2017 was useful as it allowed us to quickly get up to speed with the broad range of issues being discussed at both the regional and global level. It was incredible to see the significant progress that has been made across all of ENNHRI’s work” said Bruce Adamson, from the Scottish Commission for Human Rights.

Coming together to Promote and Protect Human Rights – new ENNHRI statement calls for European Solidarity in the field of Migration.

In a statement released on the occasion of ENNHRI’s General Assembly Meeting on 6 March 2017, European NHRIs call for solidarity with the countries whose refugee reception and protection mechanisms are under pressure, express concern about push-backs at borders, urge EU member states to live up to their commitments to relocate 160,000 persons in need of international protection by September 2017, and ensure the strict observance of the principle of non-refoulement and the access of asylum seekers to the international protection procedures.

ENNHRI calls for:

  1. an effective implementation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights regarding the obligation to protect migrants attempting to enter Europe by sea;
  2. the careful review of EU migration policy and particularly of the Dublin system;
  3. a more equitable numerical distribution of refugees across Europe; and
  4. the use of alternatives to detention or closed reception centres.

Migration and Refugees was also one of the key themes of the NHRI knowledge-sharing and cooperation sessions, which took place on 7 March, ahead of GANHRI’s general meeting.

NHRIs are fundamental to securing sustainable peace

The third day of GANHRI 2017 kicked off with a strong message addressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zaid, who commended NHRIs which continue their work and fulfil their mandates even in situation of conflict. The High Commissioner highlighted the key role of NHRIs: their knowledge and independent, trusted position allows them to provide invaluable information in front of the UN Council. He also renewed the commitment of OHCHR to supporting NHRIs ability to have a strong impact in their countries.

“In times of tensions and rising social crises, NHRIs can have an enormous impact – above all, in preventing conflicts from escalating and breaking societies apart. (..) Your work is fundamental to securing sustainable peace, with sound, transparent and accountable institutions, and a healthy social fabric. This essential role played by NHRIs is recognised more and more widely” said Zaid.

“In times of tensions and rising social crises, NHRIs can have an enormous impact – above all, in preventing conflicts from escalating and breaking societies apart. (..) Your work is fundamental to securing sustainable peace, with sound, transparent and accountable institutions, and a healthy social fabric. This essential role played by NHRIs is recognised more and more widely” Human Rights Commissioner, Zaid.

The President of the Human Rights Council, Joaquín Maza Martelli, commended NHRI’s participation in the Human Rights Council and also highlighted their work for protecting human right defenders.

NHRIs work on the front lines of preventing conflict and sustaining peace, as well their involvement in monitoring the implementation of the SDGs was brought up by UNDP’s Deputy Director of Europe and CIS region, Rast Vrbensky. He called for a comprehensive approach to peace building and the need to rethink how we prevent and respond to conflict.

Participants shared their experience in carrying out their mandates while in situations of conflict and post-conflict, leading out to a reach debate on issues ranging from election-related and political violence to early warning mechanisms and human rights defenders.

Working in partnership with regional and international mechanisms we, NHRIs, still have time to reverse the negative trend and make the 21st Century the Century of human rights said the President of the Human Rights Commission of Mexico, Luis Perez.

Strong, independent NHRIs are needed especially when human rights are under threat

During a session dedicated to strengthening human rights actors, Jasminka Dzumhur, Ombudswoman of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mentioned that more awareness of international standards is needed. NHRIs must report, make proper analysis of legislation and cooperate better with Treaty Bodies.

“The policies that we have are as good as the extent to which they are implemented” said Anastasia Crickley, Chairman of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, who urged NHRIs to stand up and be accountable to the rights they are protecting.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, encouraged all NHRI representatives to come forward and speak up regarding the challenges they are confronted with, either directly, through physical threats or indirectly, through legislative initiatives which threaten the effectiveness of NHRIs and weaken their capacity of protecting and promoting human rights: “we are too often victims, attacked for simply doing our job” said Forst, who mentioned the recent cases of NHRIs in Australia, Afghanistan and Burundi, who recently came under serious attack.

Ombudswoman Lora Vidovic mentioned the situation in Croatia, which, 25 years after the war, is still a post-conflict society and highlighted the importance of building the capacity of NHRIs to respond to such challenges, including through projects. In particular, ENNHRI plans to implement a new project that looks at building capacity and raising awareness of the role of European NHRIs in conflict and post-conflict situations, while enhancing cooperation between them.

Les Allamby, Northern Ireland’s Chief Commissioner for Human Rights, presented the approach of the Northern Ireland NHRI for dealing with a difficult, post-conflict climate: following a long term strategy to build an effective culture of rights; leaving a legacy to those who follow and cooperating with multiple actors, even those who do not agree with you, to avoid repeating previous mistakes.

Children’s rights as a yardstick for realising the SDGs

“SDGs are an opportunity for NHRIs to get on the front foot – to become more effective, more influential, more valued by their governments: let’s bring out the best of ourselves to bring out the best of SDGs”. Alan Miller, GANHRI Special Envoy

The rich programme of GANHRI2017 ended on 9 March with a lively and productive discussion on NHRI’s activities to protect children’s rights. At the event, jointly organised by GANHRI and UNICEF, participants discussed how to better support the delivery of the SDGs Agenda for children rights and ensure no child is left behind.

Alan Miller, GANHRI Special Envoy, concluded that “SDGs are an opportunity for NHRIs to get on the front foot – to become more effective, more influential, more valued by their governments: let’s bring out the best of ourselves to bring out the best of SDGs” urged Miller, noting the need to place children’s rights within the wider efforts to build a broader culture of rights within the entire society.