National human rights bodies playing key role in advancing Africa’s rights agenda, says study

Dec 16, 2016

UN Photo/Isaac Billy

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have become an integral part of the structure for the human rights protection system in Africa, a report released on 21 October by the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) has shown.

According to the Study on the State of National Human Rights Institutions in Africa, launched in Gambia’s capital Banjul, 47 NHRIs have been established on the continent out of 54 United Nations member states. Prior to 1990, there was only one.

The groundbreaking study, which was co-funded by NANHRI and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) highlights good practice, constraints and recommends policy options for NHRIs, governments, as well as regional networks and development partners.

NANHRI is the regional representative body that brings together African national human rights institutions. It seeks to support and strengthen NHRIs to effectively undertake their mandate of human rights protection, monitoring, promotion and advocacy.

The report focuses on six key areas: establishment and oversight; independence; financing; capacity; stakeholder engagement; and rights-based service delivery and development. It examined nine NHRIs across the continent. This was seen as a valuable means of obtaining key lessons that can be applied generally.

The study is based on the internationally-agreed Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions, which were endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 and are broadly accepted as the benchmark against which an NHRI’s legitimacy and credibility is assessed.

Speaking at the launch, UNDP Gambia Resident Representative Ms. Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje said that helping establish and strengthen such institutions is one of UNDP’s most important strategies for improving human rights protection in the region.

“The recognition of the need for effective NHRIs as well as the general changes in the African political and social landscape, and growing international advocacy, have greatly increased the profile of human rights issues in Africa,” said Ms. Lekoetje.

Among additional key findings in the NANHRI and UNDP study are:

  • It is important to strengthen the human rights-based approach in Africa;
  • NHRIs should be strengthened to become flagbearers of such an approach among relevant government agencies;
  • NHRIs have human and financial constraints, and need greater capacity;
  • Governments are encouraged to provide appropriate political will for the legal, financial and operational autonomy of NHRIs;
  • Governments should work closely with NHRIs in order to address emerging human rights issues.

Overall, the study concludes that NHRIs play an essential role in a country towards the advancement of the human rights agenda, good governance and sustainable development.

During the launch, Ms. Lekoetje also said that the report is in line with UNDP’s Strategic Plan 2014-2017, which places human rights at the center of its work. It implements this commitment through three strategic areas of intervention: supporting the strengthening national human rights systems; promoting the application of a human rights-based approach to development programming; and greater engagement with the international human rights machinery.

The study is part of UNDP Africa’s support of efforts to promote and protect human rights on the continent by strengthening the work of National Human Rights Institutions and accountability mechanisms. Promoting human rights are cornerstones of UNDP’s work to achieve sustainable human development and eradicate extreme poverty.

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