National human rights commissions, or "NHRIs", are becoming increasingly important to the human rights procedures. This year the Inter Committee meeting of human rights treaty bodies dedicated a portion of its agenda to discussing this phenomenon.
Mr. Gianni Magazzeni, the UN Coordinator for its National Institutions Unit, presented a statement and fielded questions. Several other NHRI spokespersons also participated. According to Mr. Magazzeni, 82 of the 112 country situations reviewed by the UN treaty body system in 2008 had local NHRIs. About 50%, 39 NHRIs, participated in some portion of their country's review process, and this trend is growing.
The primary problem with NHRIs is that they can either be "puppets", unduly influenced by the government regime in which they are established, or they can be true champions of human rights, and it is sometimes difficult to tell which is which. It all depends on the independence, impartiality and expertise of the members of the NHRI, including the independence of their funding. To try to identify which NHRIs are which, there is an accreditation process organized by the International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs. There are also a set of guidelines, known as the Paris Principles, which help to identify the key attributes of an NHRI which is truly independent and impartial.
I made a presentation during this general discussion of NHRIs and pointed to the new, emerging developments in Liberia where it has been decided that an NHRI will be established, but it is not clear yet what level of independence and funding sources will be available. Liberia will be appearing before the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) this summer. I encouraged the Committee members present to raise this topic with the government delegation from Liberia when they appear before CEDAW, including the assurances the government is implementing to protect and preserve the independence and sustainability of the NHRI.
The specific date that the Liberia report will be considered in CEDAW has not yet been established, but the Committee session will run from July 20th to August 7th in New York.