Using National Human Rights Institution mechanisms for addressing discrimination issues

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Maria Lourijsen, Policy Advisor
Equal Treatment Commission (CGB), Netherlands


Hi Myriam, two quick questions; doels education fall under the scope of your work in the sense of 'providing services'? And the discriminationground 'pardoned criminal conviction'; does this imply that your commission can also deal with courtdecisions? Or how can I understand this last one better?

 many thanks, Maria, (the Netherlands) 

Institution Mandates

The KNCHR's core mandate as outlined in its constitutive act, is broadly to enhance the promotion and protection of all human rights and this no doubt incorporates issues of discrimination. In addition to the KNCHR, the law courts also receive complaints from members of the public who allege human rights violation on the grounds of  discrimination, among other complaints. 

The KNCHR often engages the court as  amicus curiae (friend of the court) on issues relating to human rights including aspects of discrimination, and particularly on issues that are of particular interest to the KNCHR.

Christine Njeru, Human Rights Officer, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights


Are there key discrimination issue
areas that have taken priority in your country's National Human Rights Institution

Key discrimination issues in South Africa

South African Human Rights Commission


Given South Africa's legacy of apartheid it is unsurprising that the right to equality is one of the key democratic values underlying our Constitution as well as the first right articulated in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. Racial discrimination is an issue which is quite rightly focussed upon in our society, but the nature of discrimination is complex, comprises various layers and exists in various dynamics. It is because of this recognition of the systematic and complex nature of discrimination in our society that the SAHRC's equality section of the Research, Documentation and Policy Analysis Department has senior researchers/ co-ordinators whose specialist areas are: Disability; non-nationals; HIV/AIDS; children; and older persons. Following a minor restructuring, it is my understanding that a specialist senior researcher/ co-ordinator for racism will soon be recruited to replace our equality co-ordinator. Gender is an integral part of all considerations and the goal should be to mainstream gender issues into all portfolios. There is however also an independent Commission for gender Equality established in terms of Chapter 9 of the Constitution, like the SAHRC. The structure of our equality section reflects our practical experience that simply focussing on one aspect of discrimination does not adequately address the reality of discrimination in society. We also recognise that specific vulnerable and marginalised groups require specific attention. I hope to speak more in another section of the blog about the underlying economic and social rights and specific issues which other specialist researchers focus on.

That having been said, recent events in South Africa which have been widely covered in the media have emphasised the fact that racial discrimination is very much alive in our society, even among some of the younger "post apartheid" generation. While we need to acknowledge progress and change where it occurs, we cannot be complacent or forget the lessons of our past.

Christine Jesseman, Senior Researcher/Coordinator: Human Rights and Business Special Programme

economic and social rights

Maria Lourijsen, Policy Advisor
Equal Treatment Commission (CGB), Netherlands

While Christine mentionned economic and social rights I thought I ask everybody if your goverment focussus on both civil and political rights as much as they do on economic and social rights? Here in the Netherlands teh latter rights don't get as much attention as I would hope.

And a special questions to Christine while South -africa (as well as the Netherlands) where engaged in the Universal periodic review of the Human rights council in Geneva last week. Did your organisation have a role in the UPR process, what did you think of the UPR of S-A, and another question in this regard. What did you think of the role of civil society in your UPRprocess?



Roles open to civil society in UN Universal Review Process

It would be very helpful to learn what roles are open to civil society regarding the United Nations Universal Review Process (URP). I am imagining that there could be a wide variety of levels for civil society engagement - but where might an organization (or individual) start? 

Maria, when you asked Christine from the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), "What did you think of the role of civil society in your UPR process?" I made me think that such engagement had indeed taken place. So I am also curious about what  Christine's response.

l am also wondering if that means that the Netherlands Equal Treatment Commission (CGB) also had some experience with this. Please share more about this.

Is it the government or the National Institution's role to provide a process for civil society participation? Does the demand need to come from civil society organizations?  Does this operate in a similar manner to NGOs provide "shadow reports" to inform the UN committee overseeing the URP with their own findings? 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Maria Lourijsen, Policy

Maria Lourijsen, Policy Advisor
Equal Treatment Commission (CGB), Netherlands

 This april the very first session of the new instrument he United Nations Universal Review Process (URP) was held in Geneva. The OHCHR gave civil society only 6 weeks to come with a report on the national situation on human rights. Luckilly this period was extended with two weeks. The workdocuments of the OHCHR stated taht UPR-reports from civil society would be merged into 10 pages. For that reason 13 Dutch NGOS decided to write one report together, to prevent that important information was 'merged away' .The Gocvernement was invited to report 8 weeks later. So this is different from reporting on the various UNconventiions, where the government first hands in a report, and later on shadowreports from civil society are presented to the UNCommittee.

While the OHCHR in its document stated that the goverment is obliged to invite civil society to discuss the UPR beore reports are handed in, various Dutch NGOs expected an invitation from the governemnt, and when did didn't happen they offered to arrange such a meeting. No answer or sign from the government. Only three weeks before the government was supposed to hand in their report there suddenly was a invitation from the governemtns toward civil society  to come to this meeting. This meeting (Februarty 1st) was a first meeting where the government asked for input on their report from civil society. At the same event civil society was invited to come to a second meeting on February 14th to give the goverment examples of best practices in the Netherlands. 

The Netherlands Equal Treatment Commission (CGB) was invited  for these two meetings. On the question whether civil society could provide teh government with best practices for their report, the CGB on her turn invited the government to give civil society a preview on items the goverment wanted to mention in her report.

What you can see here is that the goverment kept its distance to civil society in this process. Unfortunately, because at the same time in Geneva several of countries have pushed the OHCHR that side events by NGOs weren't allowed without the permission of teh government of the specific country. That implied that side events suddenly couldn't be organized. Although the Dutch government was somewhat hessitance in the beginning, the agreed to be present at the Dutch NGO side event (after the UPRsession on the Netherlands); so civil society played a very important role to arrange its own participation. So to answer nacy; yes I think that the demand always will have to come from civil society organizations.

 Besides this its good to mention that the Netherlands goverment on human rights issues always asks other UN-memberstates if they have a National Human rights institution. This while its an obligation coming from the Paris Principles, and funny enough, an obligation which still hasn't been aranged by the Dutch government. For two years now there have been preparationdiscussion with the CGB, the Dutch Data protection authority, the National Ombudsman and the Human rights reserach institute with as goal the establishment of such a National institute from these four,

For the past two years civil society has waited and asked vfor more detailed information on the establishment of this institute, but almost no information was provided (therefore it was a very important issue in the UPR-NGOreport). The secreatary of state who was head of the Dutch UPRdelegation ensured the Human righscouncilmembers and civil society, that this year , finally, a National Human Rights institute will be established in the Netherlands. 

Key discrimination issue areas in the work of DIHR

Mrs. Huriye Aydemir Varisli, Legal Policy Officer, Complaints Committee for Ethnic Equal Treatment
Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR)

DIHR has in its national strategy to combat discrimination as well as in the carrying out its mandate as a specialised equality body to promote and protect equal treatment chosen specific areas to focus on such as:

- the rights of vulnerable persons (victims of traficking, asylum seekers)

- homophobia

- the inclusive society

- discrimination in the health sector

- lecturing at the Danish Police Academy

- Multiple discrimination

- and many more.

In its work to promote equal treatment and non- discrimination DIHR works with the horizontal approach in all of its focus areas.

As mention one of DIHRs focus areas is lecturing at the Danish Police Academy in the subject of Internaional Relations and Human Rights with special emphasize on equal treatment and non-discrimination legislation. DIHR teaches every class for 8 hours in areas such as the international human rights conventions, the UN and EU system, national penal code concerning discrimination, national civil law concerning equal treatment, etc. 

The reasson for DIHR to choose especially the Danish Police Academy as a specific focus aresa is because the police often play a key role in cases concerning discrimination, whether it is on grounds of race or ethnic origin or disability or some other ground. It is therefore crusial when combating discrimination that the ones who are empowered to protect people against discrimination is fully aware of the law and how to use the law effectively.

Another area that DIHR has choosen as a focus area is homofobia. DIHR is right now preparing a comparative study on homophobia in discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the EU for the EU agency for fundamental rights. DIHR is also engaged in the Outgames which will be held in Copenhagen in 2009.

Huriye Aydemir Varisli, DIHR.

Key discrimination issue areas


Myriam Montrat, Director General, Discrimination Prevention Branch

In Canada we promote employment equity for the following 4 groups: visible minorities, people with disabilities, aboriginal people and women.  We are still witnessing discrimination for the 3 first ones.  The challenge is not the same for the public and private sector.

Discrimination Issues taking priority within the Commission

At KNCHR our aim has been to incorporate aspects of discrimination within our various projects, however we realized the ease in engaging more research into the laws and practices on non-discrimination therefore we have decided to compile a report on the same in collaboration with the Civil Society.

Since the KNCHR was established we have focused on discrimination on the grounds of disability and specifically compiled a report on the the right to education for children with disabilities. The report titled "Objects of pity or Individuals with Rights: The Right to Education for Children with Disabilities" is accessible at Other grounds have included discrimination of the minority and indigineous groups in Kenya and the KNCHR is currently playing an advisory role to the government against whom a communication has been filed at the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights by a minority rights organization.

With regards to ECOSOC rights mentioned by a few of the experts above, KNCHR will be engaging the drafters of the new Constitution as well as Parliament to advocate and lobby for the inclusion of Economic, Social and Cultural rights and Groups Rights into the new Constitution promised by the government to the public. This is because our current constitution does not make mention to ECOSOC rights or Group Rights but only Civil and Political Rights, therefore the first two groups of rights do not receive as much attention as the latter group. Further it is also a challenge litigating on the first two group of rights since the are not justiciable.

The KNCHR is also working with the MInistry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, in developing a National Policy and Action Plan on Human Rights which will among other issues promote the rights of all individuals without discrimination. 

 Christine Njeru, Human Rights Officer , Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

About the programs in Canada

Dear Myriam,The Mexico City's Ombudsman is also interested in those areas, as well as in other ones. I would love to hear some experiences you might have and also the strategies and tools you have used to visualize concerns and also to promote rights of those sectors.I was also very interested in noticing that you have eliminated all discrimination against women. How did you manage to do that? I think that’s a huge step forward and because in Mexico we lack a lot, any suggestion you might have are welcome!Best,


María Alejandra Nuño Ruiz Velasco, Fourth Visiting General
Human Rights Commission of the

Discrimination against people living with HIV-AIDS

The work regarding defense, protection and promotion of human rights of the Mexico City’s Commission (CDHDF) has contemplated, amongst others, people living with HIV-AIDS. Therefore, it has implemented institutional and inter-institutional strategies, as well as alliances with civil and social organizations for over a decade in order to advance activities regarding promotion, defense, investigation and study in this subject.  The result of the above-mentioned is different courses; work-shops and round tables regarding the situation lived by people with AIDS. There have also been publications involving these persons’ testimony and we have a special publication with local, national and international standards too. Moreover, the CDHDF has worked jointly with the HIV-AIDS Program within the local Health Minister with the aim of training and making awareness of the discriminatory actions that this sector suffers. 

Last but not least, the CDHDF will have a significant role in the XVII International AIDS Conference which will be held in Mexico City next August. Because of the importance of this event, we will be participating in different activities included in the Conference’s Program and the CDHDF will also participate in a civil society’s forum before the Conference takes place.

María Alejandra Nuño Ruiz Velasco, Fourth Visiting General
Human Rights Commission of the

About discrimination against people with HIV/Aids in Jordan

Dear Bushra,

I was wondering if the workshops conclusions about VIH-AIDS legislation that you mentioned will be available on-line. If so, I would be very grateful if you could attach the address.

Also, I wanted to know if you are going to participate in the XVII International AIDS Conference.



Alejandra (Mexico City's Human Rights Commission)


Bushra wrote:

Dear All,

Discrimination against people with HIV/Aids is an issue that the National Centre for Human Rights in Jordan is addressing in its activities in the meantime. NCHR believes that it is crucial to make people understand more about HIV/Aids, so we are organizing a number of workshops where this issue will be discussed along with reviewing related national legislations and suggesting ammendments to help reduce discrimination against men, women and children with HIV/Aids.


Bushra Abu-Shahout

Project Coordinator




María Alejandra Nuño Ruiz Velasco, Fourth Visiting General
Human Rights Commission of the

Engaging Civil Society


Engaging with civil society is an integral part of everything we do at the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC). Extensive community consultation provides: direction for the Commission's work; ensures community committment to the outcomes of a project; sustains the project and its outcomes over a longer period and ensures procedural fairness. 

While 'consultation' is the loose term for this engagement, in fact there are a number of levels at which consultation is carried out depending on the type of project and the objectives of the project.

For instance in our Unlocking Doors project (working with Muslim communities and police) the Commission undertook a number of meetings with key stakeholders, peak bodies, government agencies and non-government organisations before undertaking extensive consultation with the community (see the Unlocking Doors Report  at   ://

The community consultations then took the form of workshops in which information about the HREOC discrimination complaints process, police processes, ombudsman processes, etc was provided along with discussion about issues of concern by the community.

Another important way of engaging with civil society is through partnerships with NGOs, and community organisations. In the Voices of Australia project (see website above) the project was managed by a governing body made up of a diverse range of stakeholders. This brought a range of perspectives to the project.

The Commission not only utilises community engagement as a feature of its work, it also advocates community engagement as an essential part of government policy and decision-making, particularly in relation to government policy that affects the rights of Indigenous people.


How can civil society best help NHRIs carry out their mission?

Douglas A. Johnson, M.P.P.M.
Executive Director, Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, MN, USA

A number of participants have addressed the importance of partnerships with civil society and the work of the national institute, as Margaret Donaldson did here describing a good example of such a partnership with the Muslim community. Lisbeth Garly Andersen described how the Danish Institute relies on civil society organizations for information on many issues.

I would be interested if you could elaborate about the kinds of competencies and skills that civil society organizations have or should develop that would make their contribution most useful to you? Have you found certain skillful actions from civil society that have stimulated learning or action within your institute that might not have occurred otherwise? What are the competencies that make some civil society organizations more welcomed than others, not as a matter of policy but rather in the practical human and institutional reactions that inevitably play out? How do those competencies make your institutions more permeable and accessible to civil society organizations?

Essentially, please comment on those practices within civil society that best help you recognize or carry out your mission, and your advice to those of us in civil society on what has the more helpful impact on you and for you.


Mechanisms for Addressing Discrimination

Margaret Donaldson, Director, Race Discrimination Unit
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), Australia

The legislation that HREOC administers provides a number of mechanisms for addressing both individual and systemic discrimination.

 Individual discrimination HREOC can investigate complaints of discrimination, harassment and bullying based on a person’s:

  • sex , including pregnancy, marital status, family responsibilities and sexual harassment
  • disability, including temporary and permanent disabilities; physical, intellectual, sensory, psychiatric disabilities, diseases or illnesses; medical conditions; work related injuries; past, present and future disabilities; and association with a person with a disability
  • race, including colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, immigrant status and racial hatred
  • age, covering young people and older people
  • sexual preference, criminal record, trade union activity, political opinion, religion or social origin (in employment only)

It is against the law to be discriminated against in many areas of public life, including employment, education, the provision of goods, services and facilities, accommodation, sport and the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs.Complaints to HREOC are resolved through a process known as conciliation. This is where the people involved in a complaint talk through the issues with the help of someone impartial and settle the matter on their own terms.

Complaint outcomes can include an apology, reinstatement to a job, compensation for lost wages, changes to a policy or developing and promoting anti-discrimination policies.

Where a party is not satisfied with the complaints process or, where for some other reason a complaint is terminated, the party can commence proceedings in a court of law.

HREOC provides assistance to the courts in our role as amicus curiae ('friend of the court') and through our ability to intervene in cases, with the permission of the court. Our role is to provide specialist submissions on human rights and discrimination issues, independent from the parties. We have clear guidelines that must be satisfied before we seek to become involved in a case. HREOC has no power to initiate its own proceedings in discrimination cases. Systemic discrimination 
In addition to our statutory responsibility to conciliate complaints HREOC has the following responsibilities:

  • education and public awareness
  • discrimination and human rights complaints
  • policy and legislative development.

We do this through:

  • holding public inquiries into human rights issues of national importance
  • developing human rights education programs and resources for schools, workplaces and the community
  • providing advice and submissions to parliaments and governments to develop laws, policies and programs
  • undertaking and coordinating research into human rights and discrimination issues.

HREOC has a role to review legislation and make recommendations about laws and government policies and programs that involve human rights issues. Our submissions are presented to government agencies, parliamentary committees and other inquiry bodies and HREOC also makes formal reports to Parliament on enactments it has examined.HREOC works closely with other national human rights institutions, particularly through the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, to address major human rights issues in the region.

We also undertake bilateral international activities as part of the Australian Government's development program run by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid). The most substantial of these is the Human Rights Technical Assistance Program, which is part of the annual Dialogue on Human Rights with China.  

Mexico National Human Rights Commission

Share his and her opinion! Since august 2, 2006 in Mexico exist a General Law for the Equality between Women and Men. This law gives to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) the observance of the equality public politics in our country. For that assignment the NHRC create in the Second Visitaduria the, Equality between Women and Men Program, for the fulfillment of the law obligation.This Program has two areas, the first one receives and gives a solution to the complaints that people do, about the violation and not respect of their equality right. When it is necessary the NHRC send Recommendations or Special Reports to the authority that does not respect the equality right between women and men.The second area, (were I’m the manager) also has two areas one of Promotion and the other one of the Analysis and pursuit of the Gender Equality. The Promotion area is the one that gives conferences and teaches in many ways the most important tools of gender equality. Also, talk about women´s  human rights, discrimination, sexism and gender. We teach all around the country, specially in Mexico City, the public could work in the government, social organizations, even in some cases they are parents and we go to their children schools. Each conference is free. The Analysis and Pursuit area is the one that studies public politics and the entire national situation in equality between women and men. They review in all the states congresses their Equality laws, No discrimination laws, and the situation of the women that live there.In the area we also signs Special Agreements with Social Organizations that work in gender equality, and with Women Institutes around the Country that want to work with us in the promotion of the Equality Between Women and Men.In December 6, 2007 the Program, present to the society and all the Government Offices and Social Organizations, the First “Special Report of the Right of Equality between Women and Men”.  RICARDO RUIZ CARBONELL.  

Commissions and variety of approaches in treating discrimination

The whole title of this comment should read: The National Commissions and variety of approaches in treating the cases of discrimination

Just a brief summary of what is supposed to be an outcome of a  two-three months long research on a topic beyond.

1. The Paris Principles give a sort of framework how this specific question should be addressed on national level. Just as a reminder: the principles, however, do not foresee the form of how the institutions should look like on national level.

2. As a sworn supporter of the International Law and application of its standards worldwide, from my perspective, of crucial importance is to "subordinate" the work of the national bodies under the requirements of the International law in general sense, and subsequently, within the scope of the Paris principles, which are to be considered as "soft law" or metaphoricly still a kind of guidelines when these institutions are concerned.

3. As to the issue of discrimination and addressing the individual cases by the national institutions, the Paris Principles, as stated before, do not  provision any limitations or obstacles. That should be the right approach in addressing this issue. Not opposite.

4. No matter if the Governments accept monistic or dualistic system of validity of their internationally accepted obligations, the Paris Principles should remain a frame, starting point  and guidelines for the national commissions.

I think this should be enough for a start. My intention was to bring to everybody's attention this very aspect of our discussion. I intend to proceed on a later stage with som eof my observations in differrent treatment of the non-discrimination or discrimination cases on national level by the national HR institutions. Thanks.    


Selection procedures for human rights

The Bangladesh Government has recently announced the formation of an human rights commission, with 3 members only who will be selected on the basis of nominations made by several civil servants. Many of us feel that this selection team is too restricted to bureaucrats and I wanted to know about how to improve on this.  Have other HRIs been formed wtih participation of citizen groups?   Also how do we broaden the terms of the Commission.   Is it useful to have an ombudsperson and/or an equality commission?

Affecting the shape and mandate of a HRI

Douglas A. Johnson, M.P.P.M.
Executive Director, Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, MN, USA

You ask an interesting and difficult question which I hope this group will struggle with you to answer. In some situations the establishment of a national human rights commission is definite progress in response to an issue; yet it might also be an attempt by a government to pretend that something is improving when it is actually creating a mechanism to limit damage to its authority. I don’t have any idea what the situation is in Bangladesh, but it seems to me that, regardless of these specifics, the formation of national commissions has largely permitted the creation of new political space where issues can be raised and where the weight of civil society can eventually have an impact.

In the immediate practical questions you asked, I would first ask what issues and political forces led to the move to establish a commission and which forces led to constraining it as you describe? The interests behind both actions may well be legitimate and very practical from your point of view, once you understand them. But I would want to know what the major pressures were and if the players in that push were satisfied with the result (and why) or dissatisfied (and why). There is where I would look for potential allies with whom to build a strategy to make the institution more transparent and permeable to civil society as you envision.

I think the experiences of our experts in this dialogue could help illuminate the issues, even if they have not been involved in the initial founding of their institutions. As they all deal with difficult social justice issues, there are always pressures to augment the authority or limit the authority of the institution to act. (See my earlier question to Piero Narducci of the Canadian Human Rights Commission on the story behind expanding the mandate of his institution). There is always room for improvement in questions of mandate, tactics, and governance. It would seem that one of the key questions is how those improvements are seen to the benefit of broader and more powerful forces within every society, and how you can act to make that happen.


Selection procedures for human rights

The Bangladesh Government has recently announced the formation of an human rights commission, with 3 members only who will be selected on the basis of nominations made by several civil servants. Many of us feel that this selection team is too restricted to bureaucrats and I wanted to know about how to improve on this.  Have other HRIs been formed wtih participation of citizen groups?   Also how do we broaden the terms of the Commission.   Is it useful to have an ombudsperson and/or an equality commission?

To have an Ombudsman or a Commission ?

The question if there is useful/better to have an ombudsperson and/or an equality commission is a million dollar question. I could share an experience of my country, Macedonia, which in order to fulfill the necessary standards in the field of respect of human rights for achieving its goal - membership with the EU, had to resolve this dilemma.

First of all, I must clarify that we have a functioning Ofiice of the Ombudsperson, which is responsible for its work to the Parliament, in sense of sending a year report and budgeting.

However, even having in mind this accomplishment and reatively high level of respect of human rights in the country, just recently, on eof the Reccomendations of the Human Rights Commitee of the UN, upon the consideration of Second Periodic Report of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia on the implementation of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rigts, was  - to establish the Commission, whose competencies would not overlap with the competencies of the Office of the Ombudsman, which has been functional for more than ten years .

Apart from that, for more than five years, we have a Governmental body called Inter-Ministerial Body for protection of Human Rights,  consisted of representatives of differrent ministries involved in the processes. Thanks.

Issue of discrimination and Institutions’ mandates

Margaret Donaldson, Director, Race Discrimination Unit
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), Australia

Under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986, the functions of the Commission are those: conferred on the Commission by

the Age Discrimination Act 2004,

the Racial Discrimination Act 1975,

the Sex Discrimination Act 1984

or any other enactment;


And functions as are expressed to be conferred on the Commission by any State enactment, being functions in relation to which the Minister has made a declaration under specific sections of the legislations


The commission also has a mandate:


To inquire into, and attempt to conciliate, complaints of unlawful discrimination;


To examine enactments, and (when requested to do so by the Minister) proposed enactments, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the enactments or proposed enactments, as the case may be, are, or would be, inconsistent with or contrary to any human right, and to report to the Minister the results of any such examination;


To inquire into any act or practice that may be inconsistent with or contrary to any human right, and:


To promote an understanding and acceptance, and the public discussion, of human rights in Australia;


 To undertake research and educational programs and other programs, on behalf of the Commonwealth, for the purpose of promoting human rights, and to co‑ordinate any such programs undertaken by any other persons or authorities on behalf of the Commonwealth;


On its own initiative or when requested by the Minister, to report to the Minister as to the laws that should be made by the Parliament, or action that should be taken by the Commonwealth, on matters relating to human rights;


On its own initiative or when requested by the Minister, to report to the Minister as to the action (if any) that, in the opinion of the Commission, needs to be taken by Australia in order to comply with the provisions of the Covenant, of the Declarations or of any relevant international instrument;


On its own initiative or when requested by the Minister, to examine any relevant international instrument for the purpose of ascertaining whether there are any inconsistencies between that instrument and the Covenant, the Declarations or any other relevant international instrument, and to report to the Minister the results of any such examination;


Federal versus state jurisdictions


The Commission Act does not intended to exclude or limit the operation of a law of a State or Territory that is capable of operating concurrently with this Act.



Key discrimination issue areas

Margaret Donaldson, Director, Race Discrimination Unit
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), Australia

Indigenous people still facing various form of discrimination

An increasing ambivalence and antagonism towards multiculturalism, both as a set of principles and as a government policy framing social relations within Australia.

An increase in the level of discrimination and vilification against Arab and Muslim.

Discrimination faced by people in same-sex relationships in accessing basic financial and work-related entitlements.  58 federal laws discriminate against more than 20 000 Australian same-sex couples

Discrimination Complaints 

In 2006-2007 HREOC received:

250 complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act. The majority of these complaints related to employment (42%), the provision of goods and services (26%) and racial hatred (15%).

472 complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act. The majority of complaints related to employment (81%). Nineteen percent of complaints alleged sexual harassment and 17 percent of complaints alleged pregnancy discrimination.

802 complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act. The majority of these complaints concerned employment (46%) and the provision of goods, services and facilities (29%).

106 complaints under the Age Discrimination Act. The majority of these complaints concerned employment (68%).

149 complaints under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act. The majority of these complaints concerned discrimination in employment based on criminal record (34%) and alleged breaches of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (21%).


Challenges and Successes


Systemic discrimination: 

The legislative framework for addressing discrimination in Australia is limited to providing a legal remedy to the individual who is the victim of various types of discrimination (race, age, sex, and disability). There are very few legislative or policy mechanisms for promoting equality or for dealing with systemic discrimination.

Recognition of Indigenous Peoples Rights as First People:

Early this year the Australian Government apologised for the injustices that have been committed against Indigenous People in Australia. This represents an important breakthrough in relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia. However, there is no recognition (either through a treaty or through the constitution) of Indigenous people’s rights as a people. The recognition of Indigenous people’s rights to land is provided through the Native Title Act, which the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination has found to breach our obligations under ICERD.  

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The mandate for HREOC does not extend to monitoring economic , social and cultural rights under ICESCR.


  • Education; The Commission’s messages on equality and non-discrimination have been successfully imported into School curriculum, workplace training and community training organisations. This has been done through the development of training resources targeting a number of audiences (see website for school curriculum resources on multiculturalism,. Indigenous issues, and sex discrimination) and partnerships with key training organisations.
  • Engaging Communities; The focus of HREOC’s policy work is based on consultation and engagement with a broad range of community organisations and NGOs. An example of HREOC’s work with communities is the project Unlocking Doors with Muslim communities and Police in key areas in Australia.  

In this project consultations with members of the Muslim communities in NSW and Victoria, included separate consultations with Muslim women, Muslim youth, Muslims in regional areas and police. The aims of the consultations were to:

  • understand Muslim communities’ needs relating to racial and religious hatred and abuse and law enforcement
  • understand police policy and processes for responding to racial and religious hatred and abuse aimed at Muslims
  • provide basic information about state and federal anti-discrimination laws and complaints processes relevant to racial and religious hatred and abuse
  • establish content and priorities for the project’s Forum
  • commence an open and honest dialogue between police and Muslim community members who may have not had an opportunity to do so before.
  • Leading public debate on rights based- issues through the conducting of Inquiries (Inquiry into Children in Detention, Same Sex Inquiry) Submissions to Government (eg Submission on the Introduction of a Citizenship Test), and Media Releases.
  • Setting the Agenda on Legal and Policy Reform in the area of human rights, eg Publication An International Comparison of the Racial Discrimination Act and Position Paper on Multiculturalism

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Thank you, everyone, for all your thoughtful contributions to this dialogue!  It has been a great learning experience for me, and I hope for you as well. You are all welcome to continue this dialogue for as long as you'd like, and look back to reference it for your work. 

Can you please add any concluding remarks on what you have found useful in this dialogue, and anything that you have learned that you will bring back to your work? Have you made some new connections and relationships that might assist your work in the future? Have you learned any new ideas that you'd like to transfer to your work? Please share with everyone the impact you see this dialogue having on your organization and your work.


Special Report Mexico

Mexico National Human Rights Commission, through the Equality between Women and Men Program, presented last December, their first Special Report about the Equality between Women and Men in Mexico. This report contains information of all eighteen Government Secretaries including the Presidency Office and General Justice Bureau. As well as the 32 States Human Rights Commissions and Women Institutes.

The Special Report also has a survey about Discrimination and Equality in Mexico that an external company did around all the country.

Ricardo Ruiz Carbonell

It also includes national facts in subjects like health, education, work, family, politics that Mexican people present.This Special Report is available for everyone in, in the Special Programs link.

Using NHRIs for addressing discrimination issues

Using National Human Rights Institutions for addressing discrimination issues, and the Practice of NHRC Nepal
Dinesh N. Suddhakar
Capacity Development of NHRC/UNDP, Nepal

Discrimination prevails simply at two levels - at the state level and at the community level. In both sphere, to combat against any form of discrimination, the role of the NHRI is always vital and essential. In order to deal with issues of discriminations the NHRI must develop a more effective, proactive and responsive plan and programmes with special emphasis on strategic partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs) and community based organizations (CBOs) along with effective cooperation with international organizations. Similarly, cooperation/collaboration with the government bodies (both national and local), law enforcing agencies, particularly, the police department as they bear prime responsibility, is more vital.  The NHRI should actively involve in mobilizing the available resources within these agencies and their capacity development.

Discriminations in several forms, such as caste, gender, religion, ethnicity based, have been deep rooted in the Nepalese society at every corner. Such discriminations most frequently fuel to the socio-cultural violence. Moreover, it is said that discrimination is one of the major reasons behind the long decade conflict in Nepal. Though and act of discrimination and subsequent violence are one of the major causes behind the violation of the people’s rights; the rights - guaranteed under the previous Constitution of Nepal (1990) and, even strongly in the present Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007.

Particularly in the context of Nepal, social/community level discrimination is widespread. As a constitutional and rights body organization the role of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Nepal is vital to combat and eliminate the any form of discrimination. Since the establishment, the NHRC Nepal has been actively engaged against any form of discrimination. The NHRC’s first Strategic Plan 2004-2008 has put the stress upon the end of all form of discrimination and has been actively working. And, now, with the upgraded constitutional status and additional mandates as well as in the changed political context, the Commission has particular focused on strong programme and activities against the prevailing discrimination issues as well as collaboration and mobilization of NGOs and CSOs including the political parties and other concerned stakeholders for protection and promotion of human rights in the country in the context of transitional phase. 

The NHRC, as per constitutional provision and mandates putting the issues of discrimination and its end are placed as a major strategic objective. NHRC has been actively engaged to end all form of discrimination ranging from caste based (Untouchability), gender, religion, disability and ethnicity based discriminations as well as violence against women and children. At present, NHRC Nepal is at the final stage of formulation of its new three year strategic plan 2008-10. Where again the issues of discrimination is one of the major issues and place in the strategic objectives (Strategic Objectives 3 – ‘To advocate for equality and non-discrimination with special focus on the rights of women, children and disadvantaged groups’) and moreover, the Commission has mentioned discrimination in all forms (Gender, caste, ethnicity and religion based)’ as the priority human rights issues in Nepal.

NHRC Nepal in order to end all form of discrimination has been active in advocacy and lobby for effective implementation of national and international laws and instruments related to equality and non-discrimination; review the national laws and recommend to repeal the same; organize various awareness/education programme related to non-discrimination in collaboration/cooperation with NGOs and civil society as well as their capacity development.

Thus, the NHRI, as the major rights body in the country, could be used in terms of its mandate, resources and civic relation. The NHRI could take a lead by mobilizing and collaborating with governmental and non governmental organizations and civil society organizations (both central and local level) along with political parties to end discrimination by policy and programme level implementation as well as strong advocacy and public awareness.

In the context of Nepal, the NHRC has always recognized the high importance to role and support of civil society organizations for effective advocacy and collaboration issues. The Commission has been always working closely with various human rights based organizations, Women Commission, Dalit Commission, Foundation for Indigenous Nationalities and other umbrella organizations working for the rights of the ethnic people on human rights and anti-discrimination issues and that will continue in the future for sure. In this regard the Commission is also on the way to prepare plan of action for effective performance. Similarly, the Commission has developed the allies in the key stakeholders ranging from concerned government bodies to NGOs and CBOs for effective functioning for human rights protection and education.

Finally, as at the present times, people’s aspiration and expectation towards the NHRC have been increasing and they wish to see the Commission as the people’s commission. In this regard, it has been essentially required to shape up the Commission into people’s oriented and easiest accessible institution. This is essential for fulfill the Commission’s to protect and promote the rights of the people nationwide. Moreover, the NHRC must intensify its effort and resources to end the discrimination from top to bottom levels.

Further, let’s raise our voices – ‘equality and opportunity for all’ and make the people aware that ‘You have rights NOT to be discriminated’.

Major discrimination issues persist in Nepal are:

  • caste/class based (most prevailed form) – so called upper and lower caste/class, mainly persist in socio-cultural and ritual functions/activities, education, drinking water spout and river, worship and temple; socio-economic and political participation and representation
  • gender based (though it is narrowing nowadays)– property rights (some restricted clauses), education and rearing, work (politics, administrative, etc.), identity problem of third gender people and discrimination against them
  • ethnicity based – particularly in politics and government services, states’ policies and programmesreligion based – not apparent in Nepal, however indirectly observed as, restriction of access to religious and societal places

Thank You

Durban Conference in Brasilia, June 13-15, 2008

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

 In September of 2001, activists from across the globe descended on Durban South Africa for the World Conference Against Racism. A monumental conference dedicated to the eradication of all forms of discrimination and xenophobia, the conference brought together NGO representatives and governmental officials to discuss strategies for eliminating racial discrimination and called on all state parties to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The final Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted by consensus. 

It is now time to review the promises made under the Programme of Action.  The review is a formal process that the United Nations undertakes following all major world conferences.  The formal review process is tentatively scheduled to take place in Geneva in 2009.  Per U.N. mandates, regional preparatory meetings will happen in all regions of the world and Brazil has agreed to host the Americas regional prep-com June 16-18, 2008 in Brasilia.  While only accredited non-governmental organizations will be allowed to participate in the formal government meeting, the Brazilian government along with civil society will sponsor a three day NGO meeting to take place June 13-15, 2008.

Click here for more information. 


RESOURCE: 2010 ANNI Report on NHRIs in Asia

For those of you interested in National Human Rights Institutions, I wanted to share this 2010 ANNI Report on the Performance and Establishment of NHRIs in Asia.

The country reports in this book cover the developments within the period from January 2009 to the first quarter of 2010. It is clear from these reports that the ANNI members have grown leaps and bounds in terms of their understanding of the nature of NHRIs and the international standards and principles relating to these bodies. The research and drafting of these country reports were guided by a set of indicators developed and adopted by the ANNI members in December 2008. These indicators contributed towards the crafting of insightful and relevant accounts about the situation of NHRIs or the process of establishment of NHRIs in their countries within the reporting period.

[Source: Forum- Asia]

For information on how to order copies of this book, please email
Please use this link to view the 2010 report in pdf format:


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