The IPU and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) renewed their partnership today with the signature of a new Memorandum of Understanding between Ms. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Mr. Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary General. The agreement builds on previous years of cooperation between the two organizations in ensuring that the OHCHR’s human rights work is implemented at the parliamentary level and that the OHCHR can take into account the voice of parliamentarians.
The IPU has often been the link between parliaments and the work of the UN Human Rights Council – and more generally of human rights treaty bodies and conventions – encouraging its Member Parliaments to translate global agreements on human rights into national legislation, with sufficient budget and scrutiny of government action.
The new agreement goes further in strengthening ties between the two organizations including supporting more specialized human rights committees within parliaments, promoting parliamentary action in support of gender equality and defending the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs.
Over the years, the IPU has collected some good examples of parliaments making a difference when it comes to human rights:
- The Canadian Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights carried out studies on the situation of prisoners in 2017-2019, on cyberbullying in 2011, and on the impact of international children’s rights instruments on Canadian law between 2004 and 2006.
- Earlier this year, two members of the Finnish Parliament contributed to their country’s presentation to the UN on monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They also ensured that the observations of treaty bodies were systematically mentioned in legislation proposals.
- In France, the National Assembly unanimously adopted amendments to a draft law on solidarity-based development and the fight against global inequalities. These amendments included birth registration and universal access to reliable civil registration as priority issues for French development aid.
- The Parliament of Mongolia strengthened the independence of its National Human Rights Institution, designed to be an independent commission to oversee respect for human rights in each country. The Parliament also passed a law on human rights defenders and decriminalized defamation.
- In Uzbekistan, the parliament has organized many capacity building activities with support from the IPU and OHCHR. It also created a new human rights commission and paved the way to the ratification of new human rights treaties.
More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has also spurred parliaments into taking action to ensure human rights are taken into account in the face of sweeping emergency government powers to deal with the health crisis. For example:
- The Women’s Equality Commission of the Congress of Colombia launched a campaign to sensitize the population on how to respond to gender-based violence. It also held hearings with relevant Ministries and the Women’s Equality Agency on action to mitigate the economic impact of the crisis on women.
- The National Assembly of Senegal passed a law to prevent tenant evictions and to ensure access to treatment related to COVID-19.
- The Parliament of Singapore passed legislation to help people who are unable to fulfil their contractual obligations – including tenants, but also people with low incomes who have made deposits or other financial commitments.
- In Ukraine, the Parliament adopted measures to protect medical personnel, while also raising their wages threefold and allowing medical costs to be deducted from income tax.