Human Rights Council discusses the role of parliamentarians at the UPR

With a view to enhance cooperation and interaction, the Human Rights Council decided to convene, at its twenty-third session, a panel discussion on the contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review. The event was held on 29 May 2013 in Room XX at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The meeting was chaired by H.E. Ambassador Luis Gallegos Chiriboga, Vice-President of the HRC and Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the UN in Geneva. The Opening Statements were delivered by Ms. Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Mr. Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Almost all speakers shared the view that parliaments can make a vital contribution to both the HRC and the UPR and can play a leading role in the promotion and protection of human rights. Particularly worth mentioning are the actions that parliaments take in shaping and approving legislation, allocating budgetary resources and supervising the implementation. To reinforce this point, Ms. Pillay stated that between 60-70% of UPR recommendations require parliamentary actions, thus making parliamentarians key players in the implementation of recommendations. UPR Info - the only NGO which made a statement during the panel - congratulated the HRC for having taken such a valuable initiative and agreed with the general consensus that parliamentarians can greatly contribute to the work of the UPR.

The relationship between governments, parliaments, NHRIs and NGOs was one of the main topics of discussion. Parliaments were encouraged to benefit from the work of NHRI's and civil society and to set up a pattern of cooperation between the different institutions. Ms. Pillay, referring to the 2012 Belgrade Principles on the Relationship between NHRIs and Parliaments, encouraged the creation of a stronger relationship between the two actors. Adding to the dialogue, Ms. Juana Kweitel, panelist and Program Director of Conectas Human Rights, spoke of the added value of an interaction between civil society and parliament. In the particular case of Brazil, a concrete example of a parliamentary tool used to promote cooperation and dialogue between state and civil society is through the organization of public hearings. In preparation for Brazil's second cycle review, a public hearing was held in the Human Rights Commission of the Senate, with the participation of the Minister of Human Rights, to debate the first version of the national report. Finally, according to Loretta Rosales, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and former member of the House of Representatives, parliaments should encourage NHRIs and NGOs to send fact-finding missions on human rights throughout the nation and should share information and best practices at a regional level, possibly with the help of the IPU. At the same time, the reporting role of NHRIs to parliament should be strengthened, while the parliament in turn should guarantee the independence and budget of the NHRI.

Most State interventions called for a greater participation by parliamentarians in the 3 key stages of the UPR process, namely the national preparation and consultation, the review at the UPR Working Group and the implementation of recommendations received during the review. Egypt and Thailand affirmed that parliaments should be consulted in the development of the national report, while Cuba encouraged countries to include representatives of parliament in delegations to the UPR Working Group whenever possible. Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, stated that parliamentarians are one of the principle actors in the implementation through parliamentary procedures such as passing legislation, raising questions and organizing debates, and called for further legitimisation of parliaments' involvement in the 3 phases of the UPR. UPR Info also asked two questions to the panelists on issues surrounding the involvement of parliamentarians in the following areas: the consultation on the responses to recommendations and in the reporting process for the national reports. When responding to recommendations, many countries decide to consult at the national level. In order to ensure that parliamentarians are involved in the implementation of recommendations, UPR Info believes that they should be consulted in the decision whether to accept or note recommendations. An increased awareness by parliamentarians on the issues of general debate will better prepare them to respond to the challenges they will have to address in the implementation phase.

A third issue UPR Info raised was regarding the role of parliamentarians in overseeing the foreign policy of the Government. Parliamentarians could look into the follow-up of recommendations their country has made and could enquire whether human rights perspectives and UPR recommendations are included in the States' bilateral dialogue with other countries.

See the webcast of the panel here

See our statement made during the panel.