Reviewing the Paris Principles for Institutional Strengthening of the National Commission on Human Rights

ELSAM, Ulaanbaatar – National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) have a very important role in ensuring the promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights at the national level. The existence of this institution ensures the existence of an independent complaint space within the framework of national human rights mechanisms. The beliefs and expectations towards national human rights institutions continues to be strong, although today more and more international mechanisms are provided, such as through the mechanism of Treaty Bodies and the UPR (Universal Periodic Review).

The urgency of the independence and operational resources to support this institution has been formulated well in Paris Principles of 1993, which serves as guideline for assessing the performance of National Commission on Human Rights around the world. This document has at least two main principles, namely pluralism and independence. Both of these principles are the main tools to see whether the Commission would be able to function effectively or otherwise. Pluralism is an attempt to prevent certain groups that could lead to dominance in the body of the Commission, while independence emphasises that the National Human Rights Commission works solely for the enforcement of human rights.

After these principles have been adopted for more than two decades, they are considered as a most appropriate combination in the work of promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights. However, the changes of context and challenges in the fulfillment of human rights also require reviewing on the substance of the Paris Principles, particularly in translating these principles to fit present day needs. This issue arose in The ANNI Regional Conference 2015 “NHRIs Today: On the Fence, at a Crossroads,” held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 25-26 August 2015.

The meeting of ANNI (Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions) members is a forum to inventory and re-examine the contemporary relevance of the Paris Principles. This effort becomes a strategic step to ensure and generate support for the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission to operate and carry out various activities that are part of its tasks and responsibilities.

A number of problems are still faced by National Commission of Human Rights in various countries, though of course the contexts differ between countries under authoritarian shackles, and a country that has fully embraced the democratic system. In many authoritarian states, National Human Rights Commissions often only become a pretend institution or merely for image (alibi institution), without real and adequate authority, and far from the principle of independence.

In democratic countries, in addition to the issue of limited authority, other issues raised are related to the recruitment process, which opens opportunities for penetration of the interests of political groups, as well as the weakness of the recommendations issued by the Commission. ELSAM researcher Wahyudi Djafar stated in the meeting that in the case of Indonesia, the problems faced by the National Commission on Human Rights are quite complex, even though it is already quite mature in age. This issue is related to the limitations of authority, institutional structures that are not very supportive, as well as the credibility of the commission members themselves.

According to Wahyudi, these problems arise as a result of the lack of urgency of the Commission in the eyes of the Parliament, as the institution that has the authority to elect members of the Commission, as well as supervise its performance. If the Parliament considers the institution to be important, of course, parliament will elect people who are considered to be able to maintain the credibility of the Commission, while ensuring its independence.

Therefore, in relation to the situation, a number of policy reforms are required in order to strengthen the institution and authority of the Commission, including the possibility of making it a constitutional body. In the short term, the Parliament and the government have reached an agreement to revise Law 39/1999 on Human Rights, in the national legislation program of 2015-2019, one issue of which is the institutional strengthening of the National Commission on Human Rights, in addition to providing protection to human rights defenders.

Specifically in the relationship between the National Human Rights Commissions and Parliaments, the ANNI meeting also mentioned the Belgrade Principles of 2012, which serves as a guide for the Commission in establishing a relationship with the parliament. The existence of this principle is expected to support the operation of the National Commission on Human Rights in a conducive environment in accordance with their mandate.