Our main priorities and initiatives are:
- Encouraging wider adoption and improved adherence to human rights by assisting member countries, particularly small states, with the ratification of major human rights conventions, drafting legislation to give them effect in national law, and fulfil other treaty obligations. For example the Unit was instrumental in helping the Maldives ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
- Assisting key actors and agencies involved in human rights throughout the Commonwealth. This includes advice and training to governments to strengthen their national human rights institutions (eg national human rights commissions) as well as build capability within relevant ministries, agencies and departments to integrate human rights into the work place, and identifying and responding to human rights issues. For example the Unit has conducted training for magistrates (e.g. in Malawi), civil servants (e.g. in the Maldives) and police trainers in over 40 countries. The Unit is actively engaged in assisting countries that are in the process of establishing a national human rights institution, such as Bangladesh and Swaziland.
- Creating and strengthening networks among government institutions, national human rights institutions, civil society and local human rights organisations, media, regional bodies and the UN, to promote information-sharing and collaborate in complementary programmes and activities. For example the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions was set up to facilitate networking and exchange between national human rights institutions in different states. The Unit recently commissioned the development of a web portal for the Forum which is accessible by following the link http://www.commonwealthnhri.org/. The Unit has led training and capacity building programmes for Commonwealth stakeholders on the United Nations Universal Periodic Review. Its training seminars bring together UN and other experts to enhance member state ability to prepare and participate effectively in the process.
- Developing human rights education materials and the ‘Model Human Rights Curriculum for Commonwealth Law Schools’ as resource tool to assist educators. For example the Unit has developed a model curriculum for human rights education in Commonwealth schools and universities. The model curriculum is aimed at facilitating the development of country specific initiatives resulting in joint certification from the institution and the Human Rights Unit. Click here for the curriculum module specimen.
- Publishing and disseminating human rights information to keep countries abreast of developments in human rights, and assist in developing policies that are in line with Commonwealth and international human rights standards. For instance in December 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we published ‘Human Rights in the Commonwealth’. The publication collates information on eight major human rights instruments noting member states ratification and fulfilment of reporting obligations under these. It also notes the presence of national human rights institutions, death penalty status and engagement with human rights initiatives of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Universal Periodic Review.
- Developing and disseminating Commonwealth-wide guidelines that comply with international human rights standards, examples of which include Commonwealth Best Practice Guidelines on the Rights of Victims, Commonwealth Best Practice Guidelines on Freedom of Expression, Association and Assembly and the Commonwealth Model National Action Plan on Human Rights.
Who this work affects:
The work of the Unit is informed by the international legal framework on human rights. Commonwealth Heads of Governments have also reaffirmed their commitments to human rights through a number of Declarations such as the Harare Declaration and the Kampala Declaration. Examples of rights established in international law are the right to life, the right to vote, to food, to education, to decent work, to housing and to freedom of expression.
A primary focus of our work is to help countries ratify and implement key human rights conventions in order to provide protection for all citizens. Member countries are encouraged to put in place mechanisms for the implementation of these instruments. We also work with target groups such as women, children and minority groups who tend to be more vulnerable to discrimination and violation.
Working with other organisations and missions:
We work with High Commissions, national institutions (such as national human rights commissions ombudspersons, and civil society). At the international level we work closely with the United Nations system, particularly the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and at regional level we have a good working relationship with bodies such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) and the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team.