UN-backed Workshop on National Human Rights Institutions Takes Place in Minsk

The international workshop «National Human Rights Institutions: Establishment and Functioning» (Workshop), co-organized and co-hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, the Office of the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator and UNDP in Belarus, the Secretariat of the Council of Europe, the Council of Europe Information Point in Minsk, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) took place in Minsk on July 18, 2014.

The international workshop «National Human Rights Institutions: Establishment and Functioning» (Workshop), co-organized and co-hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, the Office of the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator and UNDP in Belarus, the Secretariat of the Council of Europe, the Council of Europe Information Point in Minsk, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) took place in Minsk on July 18, 2014.

The workshop was part of Belarus’ efforts to follow up on the recommendations of the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in the UN Human Rights Council. The purpose of the workshop was to study the international experience of the establishment and functioning of national human rights institutions (NHRI).

Several panel discussions during the event drew contributions from representatives of relevant governmental institutions from Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, representatives of the NHRIs from the United Kingdom, Russia, Portugal, Kazakhstan, and experts from the Belarusian State University, UNICEF, the United States, the OHCHR, the Council of Europe, and the European External Action Service. In addition, participants from Belarus were represented by eighteen state institutions and twenty two non-governmental organizations. Members of the UN Country Team and of diplomatic missions in Belarus also took part in the workshop.

The workshop was divided into three discussion sessions covering a broad range of issues such as: the variety of the national human rights mechanisms (including interagency commissions, parliamentary committees, ombudspersons, national agencies, etc.); practical aspects related to the establishment and functioning of NHRIs, including best practices and challenges in their activities; cooperation with governmental bodies and civil society; international accreditation of NHRIs and their activities in the international arena.

The participants of the workshop noted the significant role that institutions at the national level can play in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. They emphasized the role of such institutions in nurturing civic values and supporting a constructive, mutually respectful dialogue between NHRIs and governmental authorities.

Moreover, it was noted that the establishment of NHRIs must address a number of issues related to the role and functions of such institutions, in particular, how to take advantage of opportunities for synergy and complementarity, avoid possible duplications of the mechanisms already available at the government’s disposal for the promotion and protection of human rights, and to ensure the availability of efficient tools to respond to the most pressing challenges of the society.

“Belarus, under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has taken another commendable step to discuss the possibility of setting up a national human rights institution as recommended by the UN Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2010. This dialogue has been supported by the UN system and the Council of Europe with seventeen experts from six countries. There are two key messages coming out of the rich discussions during the workshop: firstly, while Belarus needs to define its own way forward when it comes to establishing such an institution, it should be done in accordance with the internationally agreed Paris Principles; secondly, it is necessary to study the added value of establishing such an institution in Belarus in a systematic and participatory way. We hope to continue to support the country in this process and with the implementation of other recommendations from the UPR,” said UN Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarasinha during the final discussion of the workshop.

One of the outcomes of the workshop was the concurrence for the need to undertake systematic research to assess and highlight the added value of setting up an NHRI in Belarus. The participants agreed that the outcomes of the workshop would be taken into account for the elaboration of a common position by all governmental bodies with respect to the establishment of a NHRI in Belarus.

 

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