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Human Rights - A 21st Century Approach to the work of Ombudsmen

May 30th 2016

The Offices of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission organised an International Conference in Belfast on 26-27 May which focused on sharing the features and benefits of a Human Rights based approach with a bespoke staff manual and on-line tools.


Pressure on the work of Ombudsman offices across the world continues to grow with increasingly multi-dimensional complaints, which include Human Rights issues, being brought before them. For all bodies working in the investigation spectrum, the need to develop working practices and to equip staff with the necessary skills and resources to undertake their increasingly demanding work effectively, has never been more critical.

Recognising the challenges facing similar organisations, the Northern Ireland Ombudsman (NIO) and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), with funding support from the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI), have undertaken a three year project to optimise the resources of their respective organisations with the objective of improved outcomes for the service user and enhanced public services overall. The result has been the development of a Human Rights based approach with a bespoke staff manual and on-line tools.

Uniquely, the initiative is now endorsed by the European Ombudsman, the IOI and the European network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI), as a model of best practice in applying Human Rights obligations to day to day Ombudsman investigative work.

This short video highlights how the N.I Ombudsman successfully integrating a human rights based approach into its work.


The International Conference organised on 26-27 May by the Offices of the NIO and NIHRC focused on sharing the features and benefits of the manual. At its core, this new approach seeks to empower complainants, frontline services and investigative staff by applying cutting edge international, regional and local knowledge in an accessible way. The new assessment process has charted changes in the manner in which cases are accepted and investigated and the Human Rights based approach has facilitated more meaningful findings.

Equinet Participation

Our Chair Evelyn Collins (Chief Executive of Equality Commission for Northern Ireland) was very proud to represent the European Network of Equality Bodies on the panel discussing the Effectiveness of Ombudsmen and NHRIs in Delivering Human Rights Outcomes. She highlighted the work of the Equinet Network in general and the importance of bringing an equality and diversity perspective to bear in the work of Ombudsmen and NHRIs. Read her complete intervention here.

Some points she highlighted include:

  • Equality and non-discrimination are fundamental principles in human rights and, in effect, make all human rights universal. Equality and non-discrimination underpin human rights; all international human rights instruments establish that human rights are to be enjoyed without discrimination. The promotion and fulfilment of human rights needs to respect and take account of the diversity of people and to advance inclusion and equality. Equality is not only a fundamental principle in human rights, it is also a tool for examining other rights.
  • The recent Equinet Perspective on equality bodies’ contribution to the protection, respect and fulfilment of economic and social rights demonstrated that equality bodies provide a non-discrimination foundation to economic and social rights through supporting and representing claimants or hearing or mediating cases, or intervening in cases particularly in relation to employment, equal pay, labour market programmes and in relation to public services or publicly funded services in education, welfare reform, housing and health fields. This contribution can be amplified where equal treatment legislation goes beyond non-discrimination to impose positive duties on public authorities to pay due regard to the need to promote equality.
  • The perspective also demonstrated that equality bodies contribute a diversity perspective to economic and social rights by making visible the specific economic and social situation of different groups in society – women, people with disabilities, older people, young people, people from black and minority ethnic communities, the LGB community and so on. This can be through data gathering and analysis, through specific research, through monitoring the implementation of international human rights instruments and bringing a diversity lens to this, and through the recommendations they make on key areas of public policy – education, housing, health.

During the Question and Answer session that followed the Panel discussion, the current difficulties being faced by the Croatian Office of the Ombudsman were raised. Ms. Collins mentioned that Equinet has recently highlighted this issue on its website (read article here), and is working on promoting standards for Equality Bodies, like the Paris Principles for NHRIs, which would support their independence and effectiveness. Read our Working Paper on Standards for Equality Bodies.


Download Agenda here:


See Website of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission for further information.