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‘The more transparent and inclusive an NHRI can be in developing its strategic plan and determining its priorities, the more understanding, more supportive the wider human rights community will be.’ – Interview with Rosslyn Noonan, ANNI Advisor

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For this quarter’s e-newsletter, ANNI talked to Rosslyn Noonan, who is an advisor to ANNI due to her extensive experience working on national human rights institutions. Rosslyn served as New Zealand’s Human Rights Chief Commissioner. She was also a Chairperson for International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. For a lot of people working in the human rights field, Rosslyn is an inspiration, a model to look up to in championing human rights and advocating for a just and fair national human rights institution.

How did you become involved with ANNI?

I first became aware of ANNI when I was the Chief Commissioner for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. I attended the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) annual meetings where ANNI was the partner organising the participation of non-governmental human rights organisations, and I admit to being a little nervous about how ANNI might review the New Zealand Commission.

When I was elected in 2010 to chair the then International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) , ANNI asked me to launch the ANNI Report of that year and I had to think through whether that was an appropriate thing for me to do. I decided to do it in order to acknowledge the value of ANNI as a critical friend of National Human Rights Institutes (NHRIs), not an enemy. And I used the occasion to emphasise the importance of dialogue between ANNI members and NHRIs, especially, but not only, when writing about the NHRI in the ANNI Report.

What is your perspective on ANNI? Why is it important for ANNI to exist?

ANNI is a constant reminder that engagement with civil society organisations (CSOs) is essential to the effectiveness of NHRIs. Β Even if an NHRI is not included in the ANNI report, the insights of the report challenge all NHRIs to do better and to be more effective.

Based on your experience, please tell us one of the most inspiring moments regarding your engagement with NHRIs and with ANNI?

For me the engagement between ANNI members and NHRIs at the APF annual meeting, although at times frustrating and exasperating, is always worthwhile and inspiring.Β  Because it is a dialogue not only between CSOs and NHRIs but also across the Asia Pacific region. There is as yet no comparable occasion in the other three regions where the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) works.

In your experience, what are the main challenges for CSOs and NHRIs in working together? What would be your recommendations to overcome these challenges?

Β CSOs usually have understandably high expectations of their NHRIs which are valid in many instances but sometimes unrealistic. NHRIs are required to be independent at all times and that can be interpreted as being unsupportive of CSOs. CSOs may expect NHRIs to pick up and act on their issues, but in most countries there are many more human rights violations than any NHRI is sufficiently resourced to deal with.

In my experience and observation, the more transparent and inclusive an NHRI can be in developing its strategic plan and determining its priorities, the more understanding, more supportive the wider human rights community will be. NHRIs can also extend their reach by engaging with CSOs in the delivery of some activities.

For their part it is important for CSOs to acknowledge positive achievements rather than just emphasise the failings of NHRIs, and to advocate to Parliaments and Governments for a strong legal framework and adequate resourcing for the NHRI.

If you could give a message to people in CSOs working on or engaging with NHRIs, what would it be?

Be persistent and acknowledge that both CSOs and NHRIs share many common challenges.Β  When we work towards the same goal to promote and protect human rights, CSOs should recognise the complementary but different roles of NHRIs.