National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are considered as fundamental pillars of national human rights protection systems. They serve as key mechanisms that contribute to the domestication and application of international human rights standards at national levels. The Principles relating to the Status and Functioning of National Institutions for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Human Rights, known as the “Paris Principles”, provide that to be considered effective, an NHRI should have complaints handling as one of its core mandate. A complaints mandate is important for an NHRI to exercise the role of protecting human rights which is a fundamental responsibility of NHRIs. In a bid to undertake the mandate of handling complaints, most NHRIs have within their structure and operations a complaints handling system which is usually elaborated by documents such as Complaints Handling Manuals and/or Complaints Rules of Procedures.
The Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI) have within the context of the 2012/16 joint programme cooperation conducted training workshops for staff of NHRIs dedicated to complaints handling as well as an assessment of the electronic complaint handling system. An assessment of these activities revealed a need to undertake an in-depth review of the complaints handling practices used by African NHRIs.
It is against this backdrop that NANHRI and RWI commissioned a baseline and mapping survey to inter alia assess the complaints handling systems in place in Africa; identify the NHRIs with a complaint handling mandate, manuals and tools for complaints handling; and examine the strengths and weaknesses of these systems. The survey was further conducted to develop appropriate recommendations that will inform strategic interventions necessary to strengthen the capacities of ANHRIs to effectively handle complaints of human rights violations.
Though the findings reveal that most NHRIs have a clear mandate for complaints handling, nearly half of ANHRIs lack the power to investigate complaints and receive complaints from other parties besides the victims of human rights violations. Worse still, there is no known and documented robust strategy for most NHRIs to engage other bodies, institutions or organizations whose jurisdiction is to implement and/or enforce the recommendations. Lack of well documented procedures to systematically handle and address complaints emerged as a common weakness as well as non-automated systems to support expeditious conclusion of cases of human rights violations. These and other challenges require the concerted efforts of different actors to support review of legislation and strengthen the capacity of NHRIs to institute effective complaints handling and investigations, and thereby contribute to the promotion of respect for the rule of law, the administration of justice and fight against impunity.