The Commonwealth, in partnership with the Universal Rights Group (URG) and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), convened an open dialogue on the role played by parliaments and civil society in the global human rights agenda.
The dialogue was hosted at the Commonwealth Small States Office in Geneva. The Geneva launch of the publication The global human rights implementation agenda: The role of national parliaments was a starting point for the discussion.
The Executive Director of the URG, Marc Limon, highlighted the oversight and legislative functions that frame the role of parliaments in the human rights implementation agenda. He said that approximately 60 per cent of recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) require legislative action.
Murray Hunt, Director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, stated: “The Commonwealth report is extremely useful and offers reflection on important ways to strengthen parliamentary engagement with human rights. With the rise of populism, the world has gone into reverse. However, the role of parliament has significantly increased to legitimize human rights and to take ownership of human rights implementation.”
All the speakers recognized the pivotal role of parliaments and parliamentarians in the implementation of human rights obligations and commitments at the national level.
But if parliaments are to effectively undertake their oversight function in human rights, their capacity must be strengthened. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Rogier Huizenga, “the IPU is greatly appreciative of all the work the Commonwealth is doing to promote human rights through parliaments.”
Speakers as well as participants endorsed a recommendation for a set of universal principles on parliamentary involvement in the promotion and protection of human rights, legitimizing the parliamentary role as an “official stakeholder” in the human rights implementation agenda.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Gianni Magezzeni explained: “The parliamentary role should not be limited to participation at the Human Rights Council but more importantly should be extended to the writing and presentation of national reports for the Universal Periodic Review.”
Mina Mensah, from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, stated: “I have learnt a lot through this discussion because there have been things said here that I can take forward and engage civil society.”