Bylaws of the German Institute for Human Rights (Amended on 22 September 2015)
All states and societies worldwide are required to give high priority to protecting and promoting human rights, as called for emphatically in the Paris Principles adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, which called for the establishment of independent national human rights institutions (Resolution 48/134).
In 1997, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe likewise recommended the establishment of independent national institutions for the promotion of human rights (Recommendation R (97) 14). The purpose of the recommendation was to safeguard and develop the comprehensive system of protection that has evolved in Council of Europe member states on the basis of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. National human rights institutions are intended to make an important contribution towards achieving this aim.
Conscious of its responsibility for policy-making geared towards the protection of human rights in Germany and abroad, the Deutscher Bundestag, the German federal parliament, unanimously resolved on 7 December 2000 to establish an independent German Institute for Human Rights (Bundestag Drucksache 14/4801). As the national human rights institution, it was charged with an important role as mediator and catalyst in relation to existing governmental and non-governmental institutions and of supporting and interlinking the work of those institutions.
Following this resolution of the Bundestag, two members of the parliamentary Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, three representatives of the NGO group Forum Menschenrechte, one independent expert each from the field of international organisations, academia and the media, as well as one nominated representative of the Federal Government of Germany founded the German Institute for Human Rights as a non-profit registered association on 8 March 2001. The founding members were Friederike Bauer, Rudolf Bindig MdB, Hermann Gröhe MdB, Prof. Dr. Eckart Klein, Barbara Lochbihler, Werner Lottje, Klaus Stoltenberg, Bruno Thiesbrummel and Barbara Unmüßig.
By unanimously adopting the Act on the Legal Status and Mandate of the German Institute for Human Rights (henceforth referred to as the Act) on 16 July 2015 (Federal Law Gazette 2015 I p. 1194), the Federal legislator has provided the German Institute for Human Rights a legal basis in line with the Paris Principles and have thereby reaffirmed the independence of the Institute. Pursuant to § 1 of the Act, the German Institute for Human Rights serves as the National Human Rights Institution of Germany if and as long as it exercises the duties and functions stemming from the Paris Principles and laid down in § 2 of the Act and remains in compliance with §§ 3–7 of the Law. The Institute likewise exercises the function of an independent mechanism according to Article 33(2) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. By way of its resolution of 22 September 2015, the General Assembly of the Institute’s membership has enacted these Statutes in accordance with the provisions of the Act..
I. General Provisions
Name, Registration, Registered Office, Financial Year
- The Association’s name is Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte [German Institute for Human Rights], with DIMR as the official abbreviation.
- The Association is registered in the Register of Associations. It operates under its name with the supplementary letters "e. V." [eingetragener Verein = registered Association].
- The Association’s registered office is in Berlin.
- Its financial year is equivalent to the calendar year.
Purpose and mandate
- Functioning as the National Human Rights Institution in line with the Paris Principles, the German Institute for Human Rights shall inform on the situation of human rights in Germany and abroad and contribute to the prevention of human rights violations and to the promotion and protection of human rights.
- The German Institute for Human Rights shall realize its purpose by undertaking, among others, the following principal activities:
(a) Informing the public on the human rights situation in Germany and abroad – from a comparative angle when appropriate – as well as establishing and operating a specialized reference library:
By providing an internet-based record of existing databases, the Institute shall improve access to information for members of parliament, government departments, non-governmental organisations, academia, journalists, legal practitioners and the interested public. In addition, it shall provide access to JURIS [Juristisches Informationssystem für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a legal information system for the Federal Republic of Germany], as well as computer-based access to library networks in Germany. Furthermore, the Institute operates a specialized reference library compiling fundamental works, treaties, case law, resolutions of international human rights protection bodies and parliamentary resolutions on human rights.
In particular, the library will compile records of
- Multilateral treaties and conventions (of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and other organizations),
- Case law (European Court of Human Rights, European Court of Justice, international criminal tribunals, as well as treaty bodies),
- Resolutions of bodies of the United Nations and of the Council of Europe,
- Parliamentary resolutions and other documents of the European Parliament, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly and the German Bundestag,
- Accounts of human rights situations, developments, and problems in Germany and abroad.
(b) Academic research and publication:
The Institute's research shall contribute towards developing competencies for human rights work. Prompt publication of studies that can be used to elaborate strategies to prevent, avoid, and deal with situations that violate human rights will be especially helpful in promoting this aim. The Institute shall collaborate with existing academic institutions to which commissions may also be awarded (in the capacity of auxiliaries as defined in § 57 of the German Fiscal Code), with other agencies that advise on policy and with political foundations, with the aim of generating valuable synergy effects.
(c) Policy advice:
The Institute's practice-oriented focus will enable it to advise representatives of politics and society on human rights issues and to recommend strategies for action. It may do this on its own initiative or by request. Academics and politicians should engage in continuous dialogue and exchange of views on human rights issues. Events organised by the Institute can facilitate this dialogue.
(d) Human rights-related educational work in Germany:
Access to information is important. No less important is anchoring the significance of human rights emotionally in hearts and minds at an early stage, so as to contribute to a critical and open-minded general public in Germany that is guided by human rights. Human rights related educational work is to be carried out primarily by providing second-line support to other institutions. The Institute can be involved, for example, by
- its establishment as a national coordinating centre for human rights education in line with United Nations guidelines set out in Document A/52/469 Addendum
- drawing up teaching programmes and materials for human rights education in sensitive areas such as police authorities, prison services and psychiatric establishments,
- drawing up ideas for school curricula,
- involvement in developing competences in human rights-related issues and themes for experts engaged in civil conflict resolution,
- human rights-related events, seminars and symposia.
(e) Facilitating dialogue as well as national and international cooperation with human rights relevant actors:
The governmental and non-governmental institutions and organisations involved with human rights in Germany have their own specific organisational features, areas of expertise and working methods. Working with and alongside existing structures and in addition to the duties outlined above, the Institute acts as a catalyst and reinforces human rights work by means of communication and public relations, raising the level of awareness of human rights based thinking and acting.
The Institute will be active abroad if proper fulfilment of its mandate and the need for mutual exchange of experiences and knowledge on human rights so require. Possible areas of work lie in the field of civil society and government administration, focusing mainly on interaction with existing government and non-government actors. At the same time, the Institute’s international work will include interaction with other comparable institutions abroad and content-related support and monitoring of the EU, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and UN human rights mechanisms.
(f) Examining the continued human rights related effects of totalitarian dictatorships as well as situations of armed conflict and post-conflict situations, complementing the work of institutions active in this field.
- In addition, the German Institute for Human Rights carries out the function of the independent monitoring mechanism under Art. 33(2) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- Under the premise that additional specific funding is available, the German Institute for Human Rights fulfills the following additional tasks:
1. Supporting the Federal Government in drafting reports on human rights in third countries, country analyses and questionnaires on human rights related shortcomings in third countries,
2. analyzing the impact of European and German policy making on the situation of Human Rights in partner countries, with particular regard to development policies.
- The German Institute for Human Rights submits to the Bundestag an annual report on its work and activities, and the development of the human rights situation in Germany. The Bundestag shall officially respond to this report.
The Institute is politically independent. It acts independently of any requirements or instructions from the German Federal Government or other public and private agencies, either on its own initiative or at the request of the Federal Government or the Bundestag. The Institute freely decides on the use of its resources. The majority of members of its governing bodies will be representatives of civil society. They are to reflect the plurality of views of government and non-government agencies concerned with human rights issues and the Institute's comprehensive remit.
Non-profit status, use of funds
- The Institute exclusively and directly serves non-profit purposes of promoting science and research, as well as education and formation, according to the chapter "Steuerbegünstigte Zwecke" (tax-privileged purposes) of the Federal Revenue Code. The Institute works altruistically; it does not engage in any activities with a primarily economic purpose.
- The Institute’s funds may only be used for purposes compatible with its bylaws. Members receive no shares of surpluses and, in their capacity as members, receive no other allowances from Institute funds.
- No person may benefit by way of expenses alien to the Institute's aims or by way of disproportionately high remuneration.
- Membership confers no entitlement to the Institute’s assets.
- The Institute is funded through public grants according to § 1 paragraph 1 second clause of the Law. Additional sources of funding are membership fees, project-based public and private grants, as well as private donations.
- The Institute may acquire assets to promote its aims. Third-party allowances intended for this purpose will accrue to the Institute's assets.
Appropriation of assets
- If the Institute is dissolved or if the aims that make it eligible for tax relief are discontinued, its assets will accrue to the German section of Amnesty International (Amnesty International Sektion der Bundesrepublik Deutschland e. V.), which must use them directly and exclusively for the tax relief-eligible aims of promoting science and research and education and formation.
- Resolutions on the future use of the Institute’s funds may only be implemented with the consent of the tax authorities.
II. Organs of the Association
Organs of the Association
- The organs of the Association on which the Institute’s legal personality rests are:
- the General Assembly,
- the Board of Trustees,
- the Board of Directors,
- advisory boards that may be appointed when needed for specific subjects or projects.
- Simultaneous membership in the Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors is not permitted.
Natural or legal persons who have demonstrated their commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights in a professional or voluntary capacity are eligible for membership in the Institute. They are required to pay a membership fee, the amount and payment date of which are specified by the General Assembly in a membership fee regulation.
Admission to membership
- The Board of Trustees decides on the admission of new members on the basis of written applications. Applicants have no automatic right to admission. The decision to admit members shall be guided by the principle of pluralistic representation of civil society actors involved in the promotion and protection of human rights and take into consideration the tasks of the German Institute for Human Rights. An application for membership shall only be rejected in exceptional cases, explaining the reasons for the rejection, e.g. due to incompatibility with the ambitions of the Paris Principles.
- A decision by the Board of Trustees to admit a member must be confirmed at the next General Assembly. If confirmation is refused, the membership is terminated. The Chair of the Board of Trustees issues a written explanation as to the grounds for refusal.
Termination of membership
- Membership is terminated:
- if the Board of Trustees’ decision to admit a member is not confirmed,
- upon the death of a member or the liquidation of a legal person,
- by expulsion from the Association or
- upon resignation.
- Members may only resign by submitting a written statement to the Board of Directors giving three months’ notice before the end of a financial year.
Expulsion of a member
- By resolution of the Board of Trustees, a member may be expelled for damaging the Institute’s reputation or interests or for other substantial reasons.
- Before the resolution is passed the member must be given the opportunity to make a statement in person or in writing within an appropriate time limit.
- The Board of Trustees must state the grounds for expulsion and notify the member of the grounds in writing by registered mail.
- The expelled member may appeal against the decision within one month of receiving it by applying in writing to the Board of Trustees for the decision to be referred to the General Assembly. Within three months of receiving the notice of appeal the Chair of the Board of Trustees must convene the General Assembly to decide on the expulsion. If he/she fails to convene the assembly in time, the Board of Trustees’ decision to expel the member shall be invalid.
- Upon notification of expulsion, the member forfeits all posts held in the Association.
Duties of the General Assembly
The General Assembly has the following duties:
- to make recommendations on the principles of the Institute's work;
- to decide on amendments to the bylaws;
- to accept financial statements and annual reports;
- to supervise the Board of Directors;
- to confirm decisions taken by the Board of Trustees on admitting new members;
- to decide on appeals by expelled members against expulsion decisions taken by the Board of Trustees;
- to elect six members of the Board of Trustees according to § 24(1)(e). In electing these six members by secret ballot, both the Institute’s diverse areas of activity as well as the ideological and political plurality of society must be taken into account. Members are elected by simple majority;
- to set membership fees and dates for payment in a membership fee regulation;
- to appoint the two auditors.
Ordinary General Assembly meeting
- The Chair of the Board of Trustees convenes at least one ordinary General Assembly meeting each year. The meeting is chaired by the Chair of the Board of Trustees.
- Members must receive a written invitation to the meeting, stating the place, time and provisional agenda, at least six weeks in advance of the meeting. This period is to be calculated from the date the invitation is sent. Members will be deemed to have received the letter of invitation if it was sent to the last address of which the member informed the Institute.
Motions for the General Assembly
- Motions for the ordinary General Assembly meeting must be submitted no later than three weeks in advance of the meeting with a written statement of reasons. This does not apply to motions to amend existing motions.
- The Chair of the Board of Trustees will send the final agenda to members no later than two weeks before the ordinary General Assembly meeting.
Extraordinary General Assembly meeting
- The Chair of the Board of Trustees may convene an extraordinary General Assembly meeting, which he or she will chair.
- The Chair of the Board of Trustees is obliged to convene the meeting if at least half of the members of the Board of Trustees or a quarter of all members of the Institute or of those members with voting rights request an extraordinary assembly meeting in writing, stating the purpose and reasons for the request. In this event, members must receive a written invitation stating the place, time and agenda at least four weeks before the date of the meeting. This period will be calculated from the date the invitation is sent.
- § 14 applies accordingly.
Voting rights and majorities
- Each member has one vote in the General Assembly. A member may only appoint one other member to vote on his or her behalf, and each member may only vote on behalf of one other member. Members who have effectively conferred their vote on another member are included for the determination of quorum.
- Legal persons as members are represented by a delegate appointed for the duration of the term of office of the Board of Directors according to § 7. In case the terms of office of the members of the Board of Directors diverge, the length of the appointment period shall be determined by that of the term of the Director. In case the delegate leaves the legal person or resigns from his or her post as delegate in the General Assembly before said term has expired, the legal person shall appoint a new delegate under the terms of the previous clause.
- All decisions of the General Assembly are taken by simple majority of the members present unless otherwise stipulated in the bylaws.
General Assembly quorum
The General Assembly has a quorum if the invitation to the assembly meeting was sent in due form and in good time pursuant to these bylaws. The invitation must include reference to this fact.
Amendments to the bylaws
- Decisions on amendments to the bylaws can only be taken if the amendment has been placed as a separate issue on the agenda included in the invitation to the General Assembly meeting. The invitation must include both the current as well as the proposed new text.
- Amendments to the bylaws require a majority of three quarters of the members present and half of all members.
- If less than half of the members are present in a General Assembly meeting the agenda of which includes a proposed amendment to the bylaws, or if the General Assembly meeting is cancelled for this reason, the decision on the proposed amendment shall be taken in a subsequent General Assembly meeting. The Chair may combine the invitation to such meeting with the invitation to the original meeting the agenda of which included the proposed amendment. The subsequent meeting may be scheduled for the same day. In this meeting, a decision on the proposed amendments can be taken with a majority of three quarters of valid votes of members present. The invitation must be in conformity with the requirements laid down in § 18(1) of these bylaws and make reference to this special procedure.
- Amendments to the aims and purpose of the Institute require a majority of four fifths of all members.
Supplementary agenda items
The agenda may be supplemented during the General Assembly meeting by urgent motions. This is not permissible for motions to amend the bylaws or to disband the Association. For a supplementary item to be added to the agenda, two thirds of the members present must vote in favour. No supplementary item is required for motions to amend existing motions.
Decisions taken by the General Assembly must be recorded in writing and the transcripts must be signed by the Chair of the Board of Trustees and the person who took the minutes. Upon request, dissenting views must be recorded in writing.
Attendance at General Assembly meetings
- Members of the Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors must be invited to General Assembly meetings. They shall attend in an advisory capacity.
- A member may not participate in discussion and voting on any subject in which he or she has a personal interest.
Dissolution of the Association
- The Association may be dissolved by decision of the General Assembly with a majority of three quarters of the members present and half of all members.
- Notwithstanding § 13(2) and § 15(2), the Board of Trustees must send a written invitation to a General Assembly meeting that is to vote on dissolution two months in advance of the meeting.
- As proof of invitation, the Board of Directors may assure the General Assembly that, at the behest of the Chair of the Board of Trustees, an invitation announcing the agenda has been sent to members by registered mail.
- In the event that the Association is to be dissolved, the General Assembly will appoint the liquidators.
Duties of the Board of Trustees
- The Board of Trustees has the following duties:
(a) To decide on the admission of new members in accordance with § 8 in conjunction with § 9, and to take decisions on the expulsion of a member in accordance with § 11,
(b) To appoint and dismiss the Board of Directors and to supervise the work of the Board of Directors,
(c) To represent the Institute in all its legal dealings with the Board of Directors,
(d) To adopt guidelines for the Institute's work,
(e) To adopt medium- and long-term plans drawn up by the Board of Directors,
(f) To adopt business, financial, staffing and investment plans drafted by the Board of Directors,
(g) To approve the financial statements and the annual reports of the Board of Directors and to make recommendations to the General Assembly concerning the discharge of the Board of Directors,
(h) To approve decisions of the Board of Directors and actions of fundamental significance before they are carried out,
(i) To issue Standing Orders for the business of the Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors,
(j) To appoint and recall members of advisory boards set up for specific subjects or projects.
- The Standing Orders for the Board of Trustees specify the types and levels of legal transactions that require its approval in accordance with § 23(1)(h). In exceptional cases, approval may be obtained by written consent in lieu of a board meeting.
- By request of the Chair or the Board of Trustees, the Board of Directors must inform him or her of all matters pertaining to the conduct of the Institute's business.
Members of the Board of Trustees
- The Board of Trustees comprises 18 members with voting rights:
(a) three representatives of Forum Menschenrechte,
(b) two members of the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid of the Bundestag,
(c) three members representing academic institutions dealing with human rights as well as three members representing civil society, all appointed by the Bundestag,
(d) one representative appointed by the German Disability Council,
(e) six additional representatives elected by the General Assembly from within the ranks of the membership, of which at least one must be a representative of academia.
- In addition, the Board of Trustees has 9 members without voting rights, comprising one representative each appointed by the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees, and Integration; by the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid; by the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Matters; by the Federal Government Commissioner for Matters Related to Ethnic German Resettlers and National Minorities; by the Federal Government Commissioner for Matters Related to Persons with Disabilities; by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development; by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth; by the Ministry of Defence; and by the Bundesrat.
- Voting members of the Board of Trustees are appointed for a four-year term commencing on 1 June 2016. Voting members of the Board of Trustees may be re-appointed for a second four-year term. After two subsequent terms in office re-election or re-appointment is permitted after a waiting period of a minimum of four years.
- In case a voting member leaves the organization or the institution which has appointed him or her or resigns from his or her post on the Board of Trustees, his or her replacement is elected or appointed for the remaining duration of the term of the Board of Trustees.
- Each voting member of the Board of Trustees may appoint one other voting member of the Board of Trustees to vote on his or her behalf, and each member may only vote on behalf of one other member. Voting members who have effectively conferred their vote on another voting member are included for the determination of quorum.
- Members of the Board of Trustees serve in a voluntary capacity. If necessary, expenses incurred will be reimbursed in accordance with the Federal Travel Expenses Act.
Election of the Chair of the Board of Trustees
The Board of Trustees elects, from among its members, a Chair and two Deputy Chairs for a four-year term.
Duties of the Chair of the Board of Trustees
In addition to the duties laid down elsewhere in the bylaws, the Chair of the Board of Trustees has the following duties:
- To represent the Institute, without prejudice to the Board of Directors' legal powers of representation.
- To convene and chair meetings of the Board of Trustees.
- To represent the Board of Trustees in the periods between meetings.
- To grant approval on behalf of the Board of Trustees if decisions of the Board of Directors requiring the approval of the Board of Trustees cannot be postponed. In this event he or she must inform the Board of Trustees without delay.
- In certain urgent cases the Chair may obtain decisions of the Board of Trustees by written consent in lieu of a meeting. The Chair will conclude that the Board of Trustees has passed a resolution if the majority of Board of Trustees members with voting rights have given their written consent.
- The Chair may attend meetings of committees and advisory boards.
Meetings of the Board of Trustees
- The Board of Trustees holds at least two meetings each year. Meetings are convened by the Chair, or in cases of his/her inability to attend, by one of the two Deputy Chairs. A meeting must be convened if one third of the members of the Board of Trustees or one third of full members of the Association request this in writing.
- The Board of Trustees takes decisions by the majority of the votes cast by members with voting rights present. In the event of a tied vote, the Chair will have the deciding vote. Decisions concerning the admission of members to the Association in accordance with § 23(1) (a) must be adopted by a majority of two thirds of members of the Board of Trustees with voting rights. The Board of Trustees is quorate if at least seven members with voting rights are present.
- To prepare its meetings, the Board of Trustees may form committees from among its members.
- No members of the Board of Trustees may take part in discussions and votes on matters in which they have a personal interest.
- Members of the Board of Directors take part in meetings of the Board of Trustees in an advisory capacity. They do not take part in sessions in connection with their own appointment or dismissal or in discussions on matters in which they have a personal interest. The Chair may also invite other persons to meetings of the Board of Trustees.
- Decisions taken by the Board of Trustees must be recorded in writing and the transcripts must be signed by the Chair of the Board of Trustees and the person who took the minutes. Upon request, dissenting views must be recorded in writing.
The Board of Trustees may appoint advisory boards as needed to advise it and the Board of Directors on specific subjects and projects. The Board of Trustees will specify the composition, duties and working method of these advisory boards in Standing Orders.
Annual report and financial statements
After the end of each financial year, the Board of Directors must, without delay, draw up the annual report and financial statements with written clarifications. The financial statements to be approved by the Board of Trustees are audited by the treasurers and submitted to the General Assembly for the purpose of discharging the Board of Directors.
Duties of the Board of Directors
The Board of Directors represents the Institute in all legal matters. It conducts the Institute’s business. Further details are laid down in the Standing Orders for the Board of Directors.
Composition of the Board of Directors
- The Board of Directors, as defined in § 26 of the German Civil Code, consists of a chair and deputy chair, only one of whom should be a lawyer. One of the two positions should be held by a woman.
- Both members of the Board of Directors have sole power of representation of the Institute. In the event of differing opinions between them, the Director will decide.
- The Board of Trustees appoints the chair and deputy chair, each on the basis of public job advertisements, who then have the designations "Director" and "Deputy Director". Each appointment will be for a period of four years. Reappointments are permissible.
- If the Director or the Deputy Director step down prematurely, the Chair of the Board of Trustees may appoint a temporary replacement until a successor has been appointed.
- Personal liability of the members of the Board of Directors towards the Institute is restricted to acts of intent or gross negligence.
III. Duty to obtain approvals and issue notifications
Decisions whereby a statutory provision material to tax relief is retrospectively altered, amended, added to or deleted from the bylaws must be reported to the relevant tax authority for approval and may only be implemented with the tax authority’s consent.
Register of associations
Decisions on amendments to the bylaws or to disband the Institute must be reported to the competent district court for entry in the register of associations.
Berlin, 22 September 2015