On 30 March, DRI launched a briefing paper on the role of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) and what lessons this key institution can learn from international best practices and experiences to become a more effective watchdog. At the launch event in Yangon, representatives of the MNHRC and civil society discussed the paper’s findings and recommendations, with a particular focus on enhancing cooperation between the human rights commission and partners from civil society.
In countries undergoing transition, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can play an essential role in promoting and protecting human rights and consolidating democracy. The 1993 Principles relating to the Status of National Human Rights Institutions – the so-called ‘Paris Principles’ – set out the international consensus on NHRIs and provide overall guidance for their development. Fostering closer, more constructive relations between Myanmar’s human rights commission and civil society groups – as envisaged by the Paris Principles – is not only important for more inclusive and participatory policymaking, but also for making better policy: civil society groups can act as key resources for the Commission and help its members to make better informed, evidence-based decisions.
During the roundtable discussion, participants considered the different ways in which NHRI-civil society relations can take shape drawing on comparative experiences, ranging from informal to more formal modes of cooperation (from consultations and joint activities to varying degrees of institutional integration). Providing experience from the Philippines, Commission on Human Rights official Angie Umbac, who specialises in NHRI-civil society relations, underscored how conducting joint activities and maintaining constructive working relations with civil society groups has benefitted the work of the Philippines Commission.
For U Nyunt Swe, the External Relations Commissioner of the MNHRC, the roundtable proved useful as it enabled CSOs to better understand the constraints that the human rights commission is faced with, while helping MNHRC officials to appreciate how CSOs can be part of the answer. “We have strengths and weaknesses”, said U Nyunt Swe, “but cooperating with CSOs could be a way to join forces and tackle our weaknesses.”
To read the Briefing Paper The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission: An Institution at a Crossroads, click here