A government must stand up for its national human rights institution 

Today, the EU’s High-level Conference on Institutional Protection of Fundamental Rights in Times of Crises begins. The conference gathers together leading politicians and human rights experts from across the EU. The Swedish government, which holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, is one of the hosts.

During the Swedish presidency, the European Council has clearly expressed that all member states should have an independent national human rights institution (NHRI). The Council is also clear that governments should enable them, including ensuring that their independence is guaranteed by law and that they are provided with appropriate resources.

These recommendations are important in the entire EU, and now the need for them has come to the fore also in our country. We expect the government to clarify urgently the question marks that currently surrounds the continued existence of Sweden’s Institute for Human Rights, said Elisabeth Rynning, chair of the board of the Institute.

The Swedish NHRI started operations in 2022 following a parliamentary decision. The establishment was late in coming, several years after Denmark, Finland and Norway. The organisational structure and location of a Swedish NHRI were subjects for various inquiries. Before the institute was finally established, the government had received extensive international criticism for the absence of an independent NHRI. Since the 1990s, Sweden has received around 70 recommendations, including from the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. Several key stakeholders across Europe have welcomed the establishment of the institute. Also in Sweden, the institute was widely welcomed, not least by the disability rights movement, because of the central mandate of the institute to be an independent national mechanism to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It is important to understand that the Institute for human rights is not a public authority in any traditional sense. Our independence of the government is provided by law and we are to operate according to international standards for national human rights institutions, the so called Paris Principles. International standards that Sweden has firmly supported, said Fredrik Malmberg, Director of the Institute for human rights.

About national human rights institutions

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) operate across the globe. NHRIs exist in all EU member states but one, where such an institute is being planned. They act in compliance with the 1993 UN Paris Principles and monitor the protection of human rights at the national level. Where they identify shortcomings, their mandate gives them the right to publicly report about it and to offer recommendations to their national government and parliament, and to international treaty bodies.

For the past several years, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency – which is also a host of the conference – is following the developments of national human rights institutions in Europe.

In 2021, the Council of Europe adopted strong recommendations on how NHRIs should be protected in their own countries.

In March 2023, during the Swedish Presidency, the Council of the EU agreed on the following conclusions, calling on all member state to:

Set up or facilitate the establishment of national human rights institutions in compliance with the UN Paris Principles;

  • adopt a legislative framework enabling them to carry out their role independently from their governments
  • provide them with the adequate mandate and appropriate resources to carry out their tasks effectively.