Moderator Lotte Knudsen of the European Commission opens the plenary session 'Sustainable Development Goals: What Role for NHRIs?' at EU Development Days, 3 June 2015.

Moderator Lotte Knudsen of the European Commission opens the plenary session ‘Sustainable Development Goals: What Role for NHRIs?’ at EU Development Days, 3 June 2015.

WaterLex Legal Desk Director Jan van de Venis and Operations Desk Director Dr. Tobias Schmitz spoke Wednesday, 3 June 2015, to a seminar audience of about 200 people at European Development Days 2015 in Brussels, Belgium. The two-day “Seminar of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs)” includes representatives from about 100 NHRIs worldwide.

NHRIs are key stakeholders in the international, regional and national human rights framework. Their mandate to protect and promote human rights gives them an increasingly important role in helping to ensure that local populations are able to enjoy their human rights.

The seminar aims to address NHRIs’ potential in development work, including their appropriate roles and the challenges they face, as well as avenues for EU support and interaction. The meeting comes at a crucial time, when world leaders and development stakeholders are discussing the post-2015 development agenda. The event includes two plenary sessions, parallel working groups, and networking and dining elements. (Read the full seminar agenda, with background information.)

During the first panel discussion with audience participation — a plenary session entitled “Sustainable Development Goals: What Role for NHRIs?” — van de Venis introduced the NHRI Water Network. As part of the WaterLex NHRI Initiative for Good Water Governance, it offers training sessions and enables NHRIs to share experiences and best practices in working toward better water governance. Later, Schmitz addressed the group, encouraging NHRIs to become mainstream actors in the crucial monitoring of progress toward achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) currently in development. See video from the event.

The themes of NHRIs’ importance as independent actors worthy of greater support and their need to increase knowledge sharing amongst themselves were stressed during the plenary. Moderator Lotte Knudsen, director of the European Commission (EC), Human Development and Migration, underlined the importance of governance based on human rights and referenced proposed EC and EU funding offering EUR 5 million to support NHRIs’ capacity. Mabedle Lourence Mushwana, chair of both the International Coordinating Committee for NHRIs and the South African Human Rights Commission, underlined the necessity for sharing of best practices among NHRIs.

Speakers also stated the importance of aligning SDGs with human rights. Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and secretary general of the Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’Homme, France, noted that SDGs and human rights are “interconnected and inseparable,” with an important focus on the vulnerable and marginalized in a diverse society.

Left, Birgitte Feiring, chief advisor, human rights and development at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, and Jan van de Venis hold an impromptu "signing ceremony" for a memorandum of understanding on future work, EU Development Days, 3 June 2015.

Left, Birgitte Feiring of the Danish Institute for Human Rights and Jan van de Venis of WaterLex hold an impromptu “signing ceremony” for a memorandum of understanding on future work, EU Development Days, 3 June 2015.

Another point emphasized was NHRIs’ usefulness as a connector among stakeholders. They can act as a bridge between government, business, NGOs and other actors, and help identify all stakeholders and rights holders, “leaving no one behind,” said Vladlen Stefanov, chief, National Institutions and Regional Mechanisms, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Further, SDGs aligned with human rights indicators will allow stakeholders to apply more political pressure than human rights treaties alone have allowed, said Ignacio Saiz, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights. He also extolled NHRIs’ ability to foster accountability and seek redress for victims of human rights abuses.

 Read more about WaterLex and NHRIs:

WaterLex National Human Rights Institutions Initiative for Good Water Governance

For more information:

WaterLex International Secretariat
Tel: +41 22 907 36 46
Email: info (at)

About WaterLex:

WaterLex is an international public interest development organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a UN-Water Partner with UN ECOSOC special consultative status. Its mission is to develop sustainable solutions based on human rights to improve water governance worldwide, particularly in regard to consistent water law and policy frameworks. It works with an alliance of interested parties to improve water-governance frameworks, bringing them in line with country obligations under international human rights law. The interested parties are individuals and groups working in government (diplomatic missions), academia (professors of law, researchers), bilateral cooperation (water management advisors), the judiciary (high/supreme courts judges), the UN system (UN-Water family members), and civil society (NGOs that work on water issues). WaterLex works in partnership with 85 universities to continuously enrich the content of the WaterLex Legal Database. The organisation is funded by grants and project financing from public agencies, foundations, private gifts, and in-kind contributions. Established in 2010, when the human right to water was recognised by the UN, the organisation has a secretariat in Geneva with 15 staff members, a supervisory board of directors, and a large pool of members and expert advisors. It is an official member of the Global Water Partnership, UNDP Cap-Net, UNDP Global Water Solidarity, UNEP Global Wastewater, and the Swiss Water Partnership.