Report: Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
Press release issued: 1 February 2005
A report evaluating the effectiveness of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is published today [1 February 2005]. The report concludes that while the Commission has clearly achieved a number of positive things in its short history, the effectiveness of the Commission in several areas is disputed.
A report evaluating the effectiveness of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is published today [1 February 2005]. The report concludes that while the Commission has clearly achieved a number of positive things in its short history, the effectiveness of the Commission in several areas is disputed. The report places responsibility for these failings partly on the British Government – in particular the Northern Ireland Office – for not providing adequate support to the Commission, and partly on the Commission itself, which failed to develop a collective vision for the organisation.
The report is the result of a two-year independent study by Dr Rachel Murray of the University of Bristol and the late Professor Stephen Livingstone of Queen’s University Belfast. It was funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Dr Murray stated: ‘In light of the proposals for a Commission for Equality and Human Rights in England and Scotland, the record of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is particularly pertinent. Our research found that decisions taken before a commission is established, with respect to its powers and composition, play a significant part in its eventual effectiveness’.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was established as part of the Good Friday Agreement in 1999. The research reviewed the Commission’s activities to date and finds that although it undertook a considerable amount of work which has had a significantly positive impact – for example, aspects of its litigation and investigative work have produced important changes – it was not able to develop a clear strategy and vision for the organisation; the manner in which dealt with the Bill of Rights has frustrated many; and its reputation has diminished in the eyes of some, particularly those who would initially have been its supporters.
The report also finds that the British Government did not provide an appropriate process for appointing members to the Commission; failed to provide the Commission with adequate resources and powers; and failed to support its work.
The report recommends, amongst other things, that the Government provide the Commission with adequate power and resources, and that, when formed, the new Commission should work towards developing a collective strategic vision.
Professor Brian Burdekin, former Special Advisor on National Institutions to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said of the report: ‘While its primary focus is the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, established as one element of the Good Friday Agreement, its significance goes well beyond that jurisdiction. Both the Governments in London and Edinburgh should find this report a valuable reference as they move towards establishing the Commission for Equality and Human Rights and the Scottish Human Rights Commission’.The report draws upon international documentation, examples of institutions elsewhere in the world, particularly in South Africa, and over 100 interviews with individuals and organisations in Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and abroad. It also attempts to identify a number of factors that make institutions like the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission effective.