The potentials of a breakthrough year for Italy: instituting the independent Human Rights Commission


With the endorsement by the General Assembly of the Paris Principles relating to the status of national human rights institutions, 1993 marked the start of a trend across the world toward the establishment of independent human rights commissions for the promotion and protection of human rights. Although engaged and committed to the effective implementation of international human rights standards, Italy has no independent commission yet, being one of the taillights amongst all countries in Europe. 

As we stepped into 2021, the creation of the national institution for the protection of human rights in Italy (NHRI) continues to be on hold, pending for its text’s final approval.

The single text combining the draft laws advanced by the Italian members of the Parliament Lia Quartapelle Procopio (Democratic Party), Emanuele Scagliusi and Giuseppe Brescia (Five Stars Movement) was adopted by the Constitutional Affairs Commission (I Commissione, Affari Costituzionali) as the draft law for continued examination in October 2020, bearing the potential for an imminent approval in 2021. Despite the clear stand and the 41 UN Member States’ recommendations submitted as part of the Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) to improve the human rights situation in the country, Italy has not accomplished the request yet, sliding the NHRI’s creation down in the set of its priorities.

The establishment of a specialised institution that ensures the uphold and promotion of human rights, most notably in the form of a human rights commission or ombudsman, relates to the Resolution 48/134 and the principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (The Paris Principles), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1993.

With the aim of fostering a human rights culture, the UN General Assembly encouraged Member States to adopt appropriate national arrangements to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, ensuring compliance with international conventions and assuring full enjoyment.

As human rights are first and foremost to be addressed at the national level, the role that human rights institutions play in the domestic arena is thus vital. As a matter of fact, these state-mandated bodies directly monitor compliance with international and regional human rights standards, bringing expertise to the national level and transferring international regulations into a more concrete national dimension. Their power also lies in the ability of initiating preventive measures and contributing to raising awareness, enhancing a culture of respect toward the full range of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

To date, more than 100 countries worldwide have complied with the UN Resolution, establishing ad hoc institutions for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. In the European Union, according to the 2020 Report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Freedoms, all but 5 European Member States (Czech Republic, Italy, Malta, Estonia and Romania) have independent human rights institutions that are compliant with the Paris Principles. Italy is amongst those that have not honoured such pledge yet, seeking now to shorten the 27 years delay that places the country behind.

Why a Human Rights Commission? 

Instituting a Human Rights Commission for Italy means more than just remaining true to the commitment made to the international community. It represents, above all, an act of State accountability and continuous effort toward the attentive safeguard of the fundamental rights of its citizens – key-elements of the quality of our democracies.

Committed to support the integrated approach of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Italy has further sought to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level, nevertheless failing to have an appropriate body monitoring the human rights situation on the ground. Yet, it is compelling that a sustained effort is needed to tackle some of the challenges that the country is facing, such as an increase in intolerance and all forms of discrimination, an ineffective implementation of human rights standards in penitentiary facilities and inadequacy of the justice system in ensuring that public hearings are held within reasonable time.

By embracing a narrower mandate and advising the government to address human rights concerns, an independent human rights commission would help the country move the needle on these and other fronts. Actively engaging and working constructively with a wide range of civil society actors, the Commission could be the driving force in fostering gender equality and women’s empowerment, safeguarding the rights of refugees, promoting initiatives to combat intolerance, strengthening protection of the rights of persons with disabilities and supporting initiatives aimed at fostering education for all children, enabling young people to be agents of positive transformation. This illustrates why there should be no further impediments along the way of its creation.

The single text is ready for continued examination. It is now the time to become a priority on the country’s political agenda. 27 years later, the Human Rights Commission for Italy is a due act. A clear stance. A sign of civilization.

Photo by Daniel Sharp on Unsplash