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Parliaments stand up for human rights

A prisoner looks out from prison cell of Lukyanivska prison in Kiev on July 6, 2018

A prisoner stares from behind bars in Kiev, Ukraine. © AFP / Sergei Supinsky

Parliaments around the world are increasingly prioritizing human rights and rightly so. Parliaments are uniquely positioned to close the gap between the work of UN human rights mechanisms and implementation at the national level. A recent report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on parliaments’ contributions to the work of the Human Rights Council highlights some good practices to help parliaments better protect and promote human rights.

The report confirms IPU data on the different models of parliamentary human rights committees:

Having a dedicated parliamentary human rights committee is in itself good practice as it ensures that human rights are permanently on the parliament’s agenda. This is the second most common model with 33 human rights committees worldwide.

The most prevalent model, with 50 examples worldwide, is a parliamentary committee where human rights are named with other remits such as national minorities, legal and constitutional affairs, equal opportunities, gender equality, and indigenous issues. There are also 31 examples of committees which discuss human rights but that do not include “human rights” in their title.

The report also recommended stronger engagement between parliaments and international human rights mechanisms, especially during universal periodic reviews.

In a parallel workshop and a UN side event organized by the IPU, participants from the wider human rights community in Geneva considered concrete experiences of parliamentarians to protect and promote human rights. For example, in Burkina Faso, the death penalty was abolished in 2017 following pressure from its parliamentary human rights committee. In Ecuador, the committee helped pass legislation against gender-based violence. In the United Kingdom, the committee’s public report on two cases of wrongful detention of people who moved to the UK from the Commonwealth before 1973, the so-called “the Windrush Generation”, ultimately led to the resignation of the Home Secretary.

Find out more about IPU's work on human rights and the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians. Download the IPU-OHCHR Handbook on Human Rights.