Following more than five years of discussion and study on the topic of the “contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and its Universal Periodic Review”, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has released a set of “Draft Principles on Parliaments and Human Rights”, annexed to its 2018 report to the Council (which can be found at pages 14-16). These draft principles build on the insight that parliamentary human rights committees have an important role to play in monitoring and overseeing the implementation of their countries' human rights obligations, and suggest guidelines on the functions and composition of parliamentary human rights committees.
The Draft Principles on Parliaments and Human Rights have been discussed by UN member states and parliamentarians at multiple events and workshops, and consensus is building for their adoption by the UN HRC, the UN General Assembly, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly of parliamentarians. Such principles could serve as guidance for parliaments that are seeking a framework and best practices on how to protect and promote human rights, and would complement other sets of international principles, such as the Paris Principles on National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), the Bangalore Principles on the Domestic Application of Human Rights Norms, the Bangalore Principles on Judicial Conduct, and the Belgrade Principles on the Relationship between Parliaments and NHRIs.
The Parliaments, Rule of Law and Human Rights research project recently co-organised a side event at the UN General Assembly in New York on “increasing parliaments’ engagement with human rights” together with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Universal Rights Group to discuss the draft principles as well as share examples of good practices of parliamentary engagement with human rights. We are immensely grateful for the support of our event co-sponsors, which include: Chile, Ecuador, Georgia, the Maldives, Morocco, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania and Spain. The concept note can be found here, while the event report can be found here. An op-ed recapping the major points of the side event will be published on PassBlue within the next week.
Our research project has progressed in three stages since it began, all centred on the study of the parliamentary protection of the rule of law and human rights. In our current (third) phase, we published a 2017 report, “Global developments in the role of parliaments in the protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law: An emerging consensus” (available in four languages here) and a 2018 update paper (available in four languages here), both of which surveyed the most significant developments at the international and regional level on this important theme, and which complement important studies done at the national level by other actors, such as the IPU and the OHCHR, at the request of the Human Rights Council in its resolutions on the “Contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review,” and the Commonwealth and Universal Rights Group.
Our reports find that that there has been a distinctive turn to parliaments to promote and protect human rights and strengthen the rule of law over the past decade, not as an alternative to courts and other institutional means of providing such protection, but to complement and work alongside those other institutions. The worldwide reach of our reports confirms that we are witnessing the emergence of a global phenomenon: a new consensus that the protection of the rule of law and human rights cannot simply be left to courts and legal remedies, but that parliaments share responsibility for that protection with those other institutions. The reports show that this is now happening in every major international organisation and, albeit to varying degrees, in every region of the world. This provides a global narrative in which we can make better sense of the important work of others, as parliaments across the world work with other stakeholders to devise imaginative new ways of assuming this shared responsibility.
The Parliaments, Rule of Law and Human Rights research project has held two side-events in Geneva to launch these reports, in partnership with the UN OHCHR, the IPU, the Commonwealth, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and Universal Rights Group. The purpose of these side events was to contribute to the discussions at the HRC on the “contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council and its universal periodic review”, including the Panel Discussion that took place in the HRC on 22 June 2016 on this topic (link to the broadcast of the Panel Discussion here). The project’s Principal Investigator, Murray Hunt, was one of the expert panellists at the Panel Discussion. He spoke about how to bring about a step change in the role of parliaments and made a number of practical proposals about how to bring that about, including by working towards the agreement and adoption of some Global Principles and Guidelines to help parliaments comparable to the Paris Principles on NHRIs and the Belgrade Principles on the relationship between NHRIs and Parliaments. A summary report of the Panel Discussion can be found here.
The Parliaments, Rule of Law and Human Rights research project was also heavily involved in the November 2018 edition of the HRC’s Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, which had the theme of "Parliaments as Promoters of Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law”. Murray Hunt spoke on the panel “Parliaments as key actors to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law”, and moderated a panel on “Enhancing the involvement of parliaments in international human rights mechanisms”, both of which were streamed on UN Web TV. The summary report of the Forum can be found here. The research project also co-hosted an event together with the Commonwealth and Universal Rights Group, in cooperation with IPU and OHCHR, launching the Commonwealth-URG report “The global human rights implementation agenda: the key role of national parliaments and civil society”.
In its previous phase, the project convened a high-level international conference (link here) was held in the UK Parliament in September 2015, at which participants from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, a number of Parliaments around the world including Parliaments in the Asia Pacific, Africa and Europe, inter-governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations and the academy, came together to discuss the importance of Parliament’s role in relation to the rule of law and human rights and agreed on the desirability of some internationally agreed principles and guidelines, while acknowledging that more work remains to be done on their scope and content. There was a strong consensus amongst participants that Parliaments should play a greater role in the protection and realization of the rule of law and human rights, and many felt that the time has come to explore the potential for some internationally agreed principles and guidelines on the role of parliaments in this respect, drawing on the many examples of good practice that are now emerging across the world from a wide variety of parliaments.
The research project has provided significant support for these international developments. It aims to create a coherent narrative of the otherwise disparate developments taking place in many countries and regions of the world. By bringing together these developments, and the people working on them, around a hub for related resources and links, the project aims to demonstrate that there is a significant worldwide movement towards democratising the rule of law and human rights, and to provide a framework within which these developments can acquire more theoretical coherence and practical momentum.
You are encouraged to explore our micro-site by exploring the links on the sidebar on the right hand side of this page, to find sub-pages on the project’s work, as well as useful resources and links to other organisations that are also involved in related work.
If you would like further information or to contribute to the work of the project, please contact Brian Chang, the project’s researcher, at our project email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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