NHRIs and International Human Rights Standards

The Paris Principles expressly states that NHRIs should ensure harmonisation of national legislation and practices with international human rights standards, encouraging ratification or accession to, and implementation of, these instruments, contributing to the reports of Member States to UN bodies, and cooperating with a range of international human rights institutions.

In practice, such a formal mandate is prominent but not universal among NHRIs. The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) is the implementing agency for a raft of international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).  In contrast, of the 16 NHRIs in Latin America only six offices (Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela) have an explicit international human rights mandate.  The majority of offices are directed to uphold and promote those rights contained in the national constitution and laws. Regional NHRIs therefore have what might be termed a facilitative international human rights mandate.  International human rights standards that are subsequently ratified will fall under their purview.

In practice, all NHRIs in Latin America have interpreted their mandate to include this core function of ‘A status’ NHRIs under the Paris Principles.  Despite a majority of NHRIs associating themselves with international treaty law, its use is conditioned by a range of factors.  Few Latin American NHRIs have the full spectrum of economic, social and cultural rights within their mandates and therefore must rely on creative interpretation of their mandates.  Such contingency is accentuated in scenarios where treaties are only given the force of domestic law, or the Constitution fails to incorporate or refer to any international human rights instruments.  Beyond formal attributes, the harmonisation function of an NHRI will be conditioned by their broader institutional and social setting, and the degree to which they conceive their role in terms of upholding international standards and their relevance to their day-to-day activities.