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International workshop «National Human Rights Institutions: Establishment and Functioning»

The international workshop «National Human Rights Institutions: establishment and functioning», organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus together with the Office of the UN Resident-Coordinator in Belarus, the Secretariat of the Council of Europe, the Council of Europe Information Point in Minsk, as well as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), took place in Minsk on July 18, 2014.
The workshop was held in the framework of implementation of the recommendations of the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in the UN Human Rights Council for the purpose of studying the international experience of establishment and functioning of the national human rights institutions (NHRI).
The representatives of Russia’s and Kazakhstan’s state bodies, NHRIs from the United Kingdom, Russia, Portugal, Kazakhstan, experts from the USA, OHCHR, the Council of Europe, as well as the European External Action Service took part in the workshop as panelists. Belarus was represented by 18 state institutions and 22 NGOs.
The following issues were discussed in the framework of three thematic panels of the workshop: the variety of the national human rights mechanisms (including interagency commissions, parliamentary committees, ombudspersons, national agencies and etc.), the practical aspects of establishment and functioning of NHRIs, including best practices and challenges in their activities,  their cooperation with the governmental bodies and civil society organizations, the international accreditation of the NHRIs as well as their activity in the international arena.
The workshop participants noted the significance of promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
They stated their support to NHRIs and emphasized their role in the nurturing of the civic stand, as well as the constructive and mutually respectful dialogue between NHRIs and governmental authorities.
Some doubts were expressed concerning the effectiveness of functioning of the NHRIs, in particular, possible duplication of the leverages available at governmental disposal for the promotion and protection of human rights and lack of the efficient tools to respond to most daunting problems within a society.

Mikhail Lobov, head of the Council of Europe Human Rights Policy and Development Department, made the following statement: "In conclusion, I would like to emphasise once again that respect for human rights is first and foremost a legal obligation under the constitutional law, and also under the international instruments by which a State has undertaken to abide. NHRIs are instrumental in securing compliance with those obligations, not least by facilitating a smooth communication and interaction between the civil society and the authorities. While doubts expressed by the Belarus authorities with regard to the need for establishment of a NHRI in their country should be respected, it might be of interest to discuss the reasons for these hesitations in greater detail through further in-depth expert consultations. As it has done with numerous other [member and non-member] countries, the Council of Europe is ready to follow up on this workshop by yet more targeted discussions in which the pros and cons of detailed options are assessed, it being underlined that the Council of Europe is neutral as to any choices made. We are available to hold such expert consultations with the authorities in the near future and remain open to continuing our cooperation with Belarus also in other relevant areas."

The outcomes of the workshop will be taken into account for the elaboration of the common ground position  by all governmental bodies on the advisability of establishment of a NHRI in Belarus.