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Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth Secretariat's Human Rights Unit supports Commonwealth countries’ efforts to promote, protect and respect internationally recognised human rights principles, standards and practices through:

  • the provision of technical assistance targeting the building of effective national human rights institutions and supporting Commonwealth Small States’ engagement with international human rights mechanisms; and 
  • awareness raising of and building of consensus on important human rights challenges, solutions and protection frameworks.

Building effective national human rights institutions 

The presence of a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), which is in compliance with the Paris Principles, a set of internationally agreed standards, is one of the indicators for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16

The Secretariat's Human Rights Unit assists Commonwealth countries to:

  • establish new NHRIs;
  • strengthen existing NHRIs through legal frameworks, policies and practices that ensure their independence and effectiveness in line with the Paris Principles; and 
  • engage in effective collaboration, networking and exchanges of good practice through the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

Supporting Commonwealth Small States engagement with international human rights mechanisms

Through the Geneva-based Commonwealth Small States Office, the Human Rights Unit provides support to Commonwealth Small States’ engagement with various international human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The UPR is a State-driven human rights peer review process under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Unit assists Commonwealth Small States to: 

  • draft national reports, participate in the human rights peer-review process in Geneva, and to implement accepted recommendations; 
  • establish and/or strengthen relevant national mechanisms, which enable their effective participation during all stages of the review process; 
  • support the capacity building of government officials and other stakeholders such as the law enforcement and judicial authorities, parliamentarians and civil society; and
  • share good practice, including at the regional and Pan-Commonwealth levels.

The Secretariat also provides support to Commonwealth Small States, which allows them to have fruitful and effective engagement with the UN human rights Treaty Bodies, including by submitting national reports and participating in the Geneva-based interactive dialogues.

The UN Human Rights Council’s High-Level segment, which takes place annually in Geneva, provides a unique opportunity for the Commonwealth through the Secretary-General to share information and influence the human rights global agenda.

Awareness raising and building of consensus on important human rights challenges, solutions and protection frameworks

The Secretariat collaborates with our member states and other stakeholders, such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Commonwealth Accredited Organisations, parliamentarians, and civil society organisations to discuss human rights challenges, solutions and requisite human rights-protection frameworks.

These discussions help to promote dialogue among Commonwealth member states, enable the sharing of Commonwealth good practice, and the development and implementation of recommendations. Some of the challenges on which the Human Rights Unit collaborate, include the following:

  • Child, early and forced marriage 
  • Equality and non-discrimination 
  • Prohibition and prevention of torture 
  • Eradication of forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking 
  • Civil society space and freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly 

Partnerships

In proving assistance to our member states and other relevant stakeholders, the Human Rights Unit collaborates with many external organisations, including: