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Parliaments & Human Rights

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Part V of the Millennium Declaration specifically commits governments to ‛spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms…’ (See UNDP’s website: www.undp.org/governance/mdgs.htm) Parliaments have significant responsibility for promoting, protecting and realizing human rights through their functions of lawmaking, oversight and representation. Parliaments are directly relevant to a number of key human rights values and principles, such as universality and indivisibility, equality and non-discrimination, participation and the inclusion of vulnerable groups, accountability and the rule of law.

Several dimensions of a human rights–based approach to parliamentary development can be identified:

•    Parliaments’ human rights obligations - Individual legislators and parliaments as governance institutions have responsibilities and obligations to respect protect, promote and realize human rights principles and standards. They can do this through the legislative, oversight and representational functions as well as through parliamentary procedures and practices. Firstly and predominantly a parliament demonstrates its commitment to human rights by mainstreaming human rights aspects to all of the laws it passes, including the domestication of international treaties and conventions on human rights through their implementation by a legal framework.This can also be demonstrated through the monitoring of adherence to human rights laws. Parliaments can be active players in scrutinizing treaty reporting and the implementation by the executive of recommendations from treaty bodies. Investigating and monitoring allegations of human rights violations also underscore the obligations of legislators as duty-bearers. 

•    Parliamentary work - Human rights standards contained in international human rights instruments guide national development and should be adhered to and utilized by parliaments and legislators in their day-to-day work. Technical cooperation for parliamentary development can and should support human rights standard-setting. This would include ensuring that human rights standards are applied nationally and internationally, particularly in relation to marginalized groups. This includes addressing gender equity and the rights of internally displaced persons, sexual and religious minorities, indigenous peoples, the disabled and the aged.

•    Parliamentary processes - Human rights holders refers to people as holders of rights that can be claimed through participation in parliamentary processes. The right to vote, the right to participate in public hearings, the ability of citizens and organizations to participate in the development of legislation and the role of the public in inputting to the national budget process all demonstrate how claim-holders can participate in parliamentary processes and thus actively assert their rights.

Parliamentarians themselves are also claim-holders. In countries where protection and promotion of human rights is limited, some of the only people who can actively use their rights are parliamentarians. Under such conditions, there is a risk that a parliamentarian who tries to enforce her rights may face persecution. In which case, the parliament must be empowered to promote and protect the rights of its members.

•    Parliaments after conflict - Addressing issues of impunity and justice in post-conflict countries is one critical area where the application of human rights values, principles and standards can facilitate access to rights by claim-holders. Another example is during peace negotiation and peace-building processes (including post-conflict constitution-making or constitutional revision processes), where the rights of all parties in a conflict can be accommodated through the active participation of representatives from all societal groups.