Background of the Research Project

Background of the Research Project

In its first phase (2010-2012) the project focused on parliaments and human rights and had two broad aims. The first was to assess how, if at all, debate about human rights in the UK Parliament had changed over the 10-year period between the setting up of the UK’s first parliamentary human rights committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in 2000 and the end of the 2005–10 Parliament in May 2010. The second was to assess whether and, if so, to what extent courts have considered parliamentary debates about human rights when deciding human rights compatibility issues previously considered by Parliament. This resulted in the production of a report (link here) containing the research findings, and the organisation of an international conference in April 2012 (link here), whose papers were revised and published in a 2015 book (link here).  

In its present phase (from 2015 onwards) the project has broadened its focus to consider parliaments’ role in relation to the rule of law more widely, including human rights. It has evolved partly in response to the growing international consensus about the desirability of increasing the role of parliaments in upholding the rule of law and human rights, which has emerged over the last five years. 

2015 International Conference

A high-level international conference (link here) was held 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 theirscope 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.  

UN Human Rights Council

Since the conclusion of the conference, the UN Human Rights Council has passed a resolution on the ‘Contribution of Parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council and its universal periodic review’ (link here), acknowledging ‘the crucial role that parliaments play in translating international commitments into national policies and laws, and hence in contributing to the fulfilment by each State Member of the United Nations of its human rights obligations and commitments and to the strengthening of the rule of law’; and convening a Panel Discussion at its June 2016 session ‘to take stock of the contribution of parliaments to the work of the Council and its universal periodic review and to identify ways to enhance further that contribution.’ The Panel Discussion in the UN Human Rights Council in June 2016 will provide a welcome opportunity to identify some concrete ways of enhancing the role of parliaments in relation to the rule of law and human rights, and will be an opportunity for the Council to consider for the first time the desirability of distilling some principles and guidelines from current best practice. 

The research project aims to contribute to the Panel Discussion by helping 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. 

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