National Human Rights Institutions

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can take a number of different forms, although most are either human rights commissions or ombudsman institutions. What they have in common is their independence from the rest of government and their mandate to promote and protect human rights. They act as a link between the international and domestic human rights systems.

Their important role is recognised internationally, including by the UN. NHRIs that comply with the Paris Principles are given special status in the Human Rights Council.

Many NHRIs have a mandate to promote the adoption and implementation of international human rights treaties. In addition, their role in the prevention of human rights violations has been increasingly recognised, including in Human Rights Council resolutions.

Often, these national institutions have direct experience of issues affecting persons deprived of their liberty. Many have a mandate to receive and investigate complaints or conduct investigations on issues relating to detention. Some also make visits to places of detention, as part of this investigative role.

Increasingly, governments designate their NHRI as the National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT, either alone or as part of a multi-body or ‘ombudsman plus’ system. This gives NHRIs a direct mandate to undertake unannounced, preventive visits to places of detention and to make recommendations relating to the rights of persons deprived of liberty.

Projects in Africa and in Asia Pacific

The APT is working actively to strengthen the capacity of NHRIs in the field of torture prevention. We have ongoing multi-year projects on torture prevention with both the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) and with the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI). We also cooperate with the International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs (ICC), the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) and individual organisations.

APT has published several publications specifically targeted at NHRIs.

In this video from Asia Pacific Forum on Monitoring human rights violations, APT's Secretary General Mark Thomson discusses the role of NHRIs in the prevention of torture.