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Bachelet Alarmed By Attempts To Undermine National Human Rights Institutions In Latin America And The Caribbean

GENEVA (6 May 2021) - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday sounded the alarm over the rising number of threats, attacks and attempts to undermine and delegitimise independent national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in Latin America and the Caribbean by Governments and others in positions of power.

Over the last two years, the UN Human Rights Office has received increasing complaints from NHRIs (Defensorías del Pueblo, Procuradurías para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, Ombudsperson Offices) in the region, who have been harassed and threatened by Governments, parliamentarians, officials, vigilante groups and others simply for doing their work and fulfilling their mandate.

Reported incidents include threats or harassment against the institutions or their staff in Bolivia, Chile and El Salvador; attacks against the premises and staff of the NHRI in Haiti; attempts to remove the head of the organization in Guatemala and Mexico at the state level. Also of concern are public statements discrediting the institutions’ work in Ecuador and Uruguay; budget cuts and the lifting of the immunity of the NHRI head in Peru.

The High Commissioner also voiced concern at the failure for a decade to appoint an Ombudsperson in Argentina.

“The fact that we have received complaints from institutions in almost a dozen countries in the region is striking testimony to the expanding trend and magnitude of the problem,” Bachelet said.

“The work of independent national human rights institutions is crucial for any society. However, they can only fulfil their mandate of protecting and promoting human rights if they are able to operate without undue interference by governments and others, and are able to keep their independence. Otherwise, they will lose their credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people they are meant to serve,” she said.

“Let me be very clear: these institutions, who work closely with my Office and the UN human rights mechanisms, must not face any form of abuse or interference, especially political pressure. I urge governments across the region to abide by their responsibilities and respect and protect the independence of the national human rights institutions,” the UN Human Rights Chief said.

These responsibilities are enshrined in the Paris Principles, a set of minimum international standards for effective and credible NHRIs adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993. The Paris Principles state that NHRIs should uphold international human rights standards in an impartial and independent manner.

The High Commissioner acknowledged that NHRIs could pose challenges for governments because, according to their mandates, they have the duty to highlight gaps in the protection of human rights. However, she stressed that Governments can benefit from their independent assessments to help resolve human rights problems -a role that any democratic society should welcome.

Bachelet called on the respective authorities to establish prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigations into each and every alleged attack, act of reprisal, threat or intimidation against these key institutions.

She also stressed that in the current context of the pandemic, NHRIs play an even more essential role, as they have the additional duty of ensuring a human rights-based approach to the COVID-19 response.

To see the High Commissioner’s video, please click here:

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