The role of national parliaments within the UPR discussed at the HRC

On 22 June 2016, the “Panel discussion on the contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and its Universal Periodic Review (UPR)” was held during the 32nd session of the HRC. The Panel aimed to take stock of the current situation since the adoption of the HRC Resolution 30/14 (October 2015) on identifying ways to further enhance the contribution of the national parliaments. The panel was moderated by Ms Hala Hameed, Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations Office in Geneva. The speakers represented a variety of backgrounds, contributing to a rich exchange of ideas and recommendations on ways to implement HRC Res. 30/14.

Mr. Adam Abdelmoula, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty-Mechanisms Division, addressed the opening remarks by stressing the “growing international consensus about the importance of the role of parliaments in the promotion and protection of human rights”, and recalling the two General Assembly resolutions of 2012 and 2014 respectively calling for a stronger cooperation between the UN, national parliaments and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Mr. Abdelmoula recalled the action by the HRC in 2014 acknowledging the leading role that parliaments could play in the implementation of recommendations made through the UPR. This idea is reinforced by the fact that no less than 60-70% of UPR recommendations require or involve parliamentary action. In addition, he provided details about the four regionalseminars for parliamentarians on the work of the Council and the UPR process”, organised together with IPU as a follow-up to the first panel discussion. Recognising the lack of significant participation of parliaments during the first and second cycles of the UPR, the regional seminars constituted “a first step to start documenting not only shortfalls, but also positive examples of parliamentary involvement in the human rights work and ways to replicate the good practices”.

Mr Abdelmoula concluded his intervention by encouraging parliaments to establish specialised human rights committees to reinforce the role of parliamentarians in promoting and protecting human rights in cooperation with the growing number of national human rights institutions.

Mr. Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, noted with satisfaction that “ever more parliaments are being consulted when national reports are being drafted”. He further stressed the fact that during the second cycle, 10% of the national delegations included at least one MP. Mr. Chungong expressed his conviction that, parliaments have the potential to fulfil an important role in the UPR. He further underlined that parliamentarians attending the Council session should represent the political diversity in Parliament, and in particular those working directly on human rights issues.

According to the IPU Secretary-General, Parliaments not only can help promote public debate on human rights and seek input from all segments of society; moreover, they can lend democratic legitimacy to the outcome of that debate and galvanize public support for implementation. In addition, Mr Chungongre highlighted that most of the UPR recommendations require legislative and budgetary action: “taking parliaments into account is therefore also about making sure that those recommendations do not become a dead letter”.

Ahead of the third cycle of the UPR, Mr. Chungong called on the Permanent Representatives based in Geneva to play a critical role in helping ensure that their own capitals start integrating parliaments more systematically into the UPR process. Similarly, the Human Rights Council should also be instrumental in ensuring that its special procedures systematically take parliaments into account in their work, during the in-country visits and when they draft their reports.

Good practices from different national parliaments were discussed by the other panellists. Ms. Alexandra Ocles Padilla, member of the National Assembly of Ecuador and president of the Parliamentary Group for the Rights of Peoples and Nationalities, and Mr. Hakim Benchamach, President of the Chamber of Counsellors of Morocco and Member of the Superior Council of Education and Vocational training, provided an insight into the work of their Parliaments . They stressed the important task the parliaments carry out in ratifying international and regional instruments, and bringing national legislation in line. Furthermore, Mr. Benchamach insisted on the importance of applying the Belgrade principles in the relations between parliaments and the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI).

In the same vein, Mr. Neri Colmenares, Senior Deputy Minority Leader at the Philippines House of Representatives, emphasised the need to enhance knowledge and understanding of human rights issues and mechanisms amongst parliamentarians, so that they are fully aware of the implications of the policies put forward.

Mr Murray Hunt, Legal advisor of the Joint Committee on Human Rights of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, elaborated on the British framework vis-à-vis the role of parliamentarians and human rights. In order to strengthen and consolidate the process, Mr. Hunt suggested the creation of a new Special Procedure mandate to increase the role of parliamentarians in the promotion and protection of human rights, to find new ways to mainstream their work and to further engage them in the work of the HRC.

Following the statements by the panellists, delegates and NGOs took the floor to express their views on the matter and to share good practices.
The webcast of the Panel discussion is available here