Our Core Activities
The Commission’s primary role is to make sure government and public authorities protect, respect and fulfil the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland. We also help people understand what their human rights are and what they can do if their rights are violated or abused. To pursue this objective we consider the full range of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Our work is based on the international human rights treaties ratified by the United Kingdom government, domestic legislation and relevant soft law standards.
1. keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness in Northern Ireland of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights.
2. advising the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Executive of legislative and other measures which ought to be taken to protect human rights—as soon as reasonably practicable after receipt of a general or specific request for advice; and on such other occasions as the Commission thinks appropriate.
3. advising the Northern Ireland Assembly whether legislative Bills are compatible with human rights.
4. providing advice to the UK government and Westminster Parliament on matters affecting human rights in NI.
5. conducting investigations on systemic human rights issues. To do so, we may enter places of detention, and can compel individuals and agencies to give oral testimony or to produce documents.
6. promoting understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights in Northern Ireland. To do so, we may undertake or support research and educational activities.
7. providing legal assistance to individuals and initiating strategic cases, including own motion legal challenges.
8. monitoring the implementation of international human rights treaties and reporting to the United Nations and Council of Europe.
9. working in partnership with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission as mandated through the joint committee created in accordance with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.
The Commission is mandated in accordance with Article 2(1) of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland of the European Union Withdrawal Agreement to ensure there is no diminution of rights protected in the ‘Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity’ chapter of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement as a result of United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. It is also mandated to ensure that, if certain European Union equality laws are changed after 1 January 2021 to improve the protection of human rights, then Northern Ireland will keep pace with those changes. The Commission exercises this mandate alongside the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, and through the Joint Committee of representatives of the Human Rights Commissions of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Read more about this function here for more on human rights after Brexit.
The Commission is also designated, with the Equality Commission, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons as the independent mechanism tasked with promoting, protecting and monitoring implementation of Convention in Northern Ireland.
We also engage with other National Human Rights Institutions in the United Kingdom on issues of common interest.
Our Annual Statement, published in December each year, records how much progress has been made towards meeting human rights obligations in Northern Ireland. This strongly informs our future work priorities.