The role of national parliaments

 Over recent years, a clear focus of discussions around the evolving position of parliaments in the universal human rights system has been their role in the implementation, by States, of international human rights obligations and commitments. As part of a wider global ‘human rights implementation agenda,’ the IPU, the UN and the Commonwealth have each taken important steps to assert the role of parliaments, especially parliamentary human rights committees, in a systemic manner throughout the international human rights ‘implementation-reporting cycle.’ This means leveraging parliaments’ legislative, oversight and budgetary roles to support the effective domestic implementation of the recommendations of the UN’s human rights mechanisms, the transparent monitoring of progress, and objective and balanced international reporting.

In 2012, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the IPU collaborated in hosting an international parliamentary workshop in Geneva on: ‘Strengthening the role of parliamentarians in the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).’ The aim of the meeting was to better understand the ways in which members of parliament can contribute to the UPR, and to identify ways in which the Commonwealth, the IPU, and other international partners might usefully support parliamentarians in that regard.

Then, between 2013 and 2016, the Commonwealth Secretariat, in partnership with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), convened four regional seminars for parliamentarians to consider their actual and potential role in promoting and protecting universal rights. These regional seminars led to the adoption of landmark declarations – the Mahé Declaration, the Kotte Declaration, and the

Pipitea Declaration – that commit parliamentarians from the African, Asian and Pacific regions to enhanced engagement with international and regional human rights mechanisms. As a vehicle for taking forward that commitment, the seminars also led to the establishment of the Commonwealth Africa Parliamentary Human Rights Group (CAPHRG). Similar groups for the Asian and Pacific regions are in the process of being established.

Moving forward, the Commonwealth, together with civil society actors such as the Universal Rights Group, is at the vanguard of progressive calls for the international community to consider international standards or principles governing the role of parliaments in the domestic implementation of international human rights obligations and commitments. During the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in March 2016, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, said: ‘We believe there is merit in considering the potential of a set of international principles or standards, such as the Paris Principles, for parliaments.’

The URG project developed jointly with the the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Universal Rights Group, seeks to map and analyse contemporary debates, decisions, and initiatives focused on parliamentary engagement with the universal human rights system, and to assess the contribution of the Commonwealth to worldwide efforts to strengthen that engagement and thereby improve the on-the-ground enjoyment of human rights.

Featured image: United Nations Photo. Secretary-General Addresses European Parliament on Anniversary of Rights Convention. A wide view of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Parliament at its 60th anniversary commemoration of the European Convention on Human Rights. Photo ID 452192. 19/10/2010. Strasbourg, France. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

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