Eustace Lake, Member of Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda gave a voice to the Commonwealth in a panel discussion at the 23rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva today.
Mr Lake, who is the Chairperson of the newly established Commonwealth Caribbean Parliamentary Human Rights Group, said: “We recognise that the role of parliaments is paramount in following up on recommendations from international human rights mechanisms and in the implementation of human rights obligations at the national level.”
With technical assistance and support from the Commonwealth Secretariat, Mr Lake is participating in the session, where he spoke on a panel to discuss the contribution of parliaments to the work of the UN Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review.
The panel is exploring ways to enhance synergies between the Human Rights Council and parliaments to ensure follow-up and positive impact of the Universal Periodic Review nationally.
The Commonwealth Caribbean Parliamentary Human Rights Group was established as the main outcome of the Caribbean Regional Seminar for Members of Parliament on the role of Parliamentarians in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Human Rights convened the seminar in partnership with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and with expert technical assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The Commonwealth Caribbean Parliamentary Human Rights Group is strengthening the capacity of parliaments in the Caribbean to contribute to the implementation of accepted Universal Periodic Review recommendations. This includes the establishment of national human rights institutions compliant with the Paris Principles.
Mr Lake said: “Under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the Human Rights Council, the majority of Commonwealth Caribbean countries have accepted recommendations to establish a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. As we know, those Principles set minimum standards that should be met by a national human rights institution with respect to its mandate, its independence and effectiveness.”
In his presentation, Mr Lake addressed the recently adopted Belgrade Principles on the relationship between national human rights institutions and parliaments. Adopted at an international conference in 2012, they notably provide useful guidance on the role of parliaments in establishing national human rights institutions in consultation with civil society, and in ensuring the functioning, the independence and accountability of the national human rights institutional on a continuous basis.
When he addressed the High Level Segment of the UN Human Rights Council in February this year, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma had stressed the importance of the Commonwealth’s work in strengthening human rights. He said: “The Commonwealth Secretariat works to strengthen the capacities of national governments, national human rights institutions, parliaments and civil society to engage constructively with the Universal Periodic Review mechanism and process, including in the implementation of accepted recommendations.”
In Geneva today, Karen McKenzie, Acting Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat buttressed this. She noted: “Parliaments have an important role to play in the effective and sustainable implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations. The Caribbean seminar was part of a series of regional seminars we will be convening together with strategic partners, including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Our objective is to strengthen capacity among parliamentarians on how to use parliamentary tools creatively to strengthen rights protection and promotion.”
The next seminar will be hosted in the Africa region and is scheduled for November 2013.