In 1993 CHRI was established in New Delhi. The initial plan was to move the CHRI secretariat every five years in order to deepen expertise on all regions of the Commonwealth. Once the logistical difficulties of frequent moves became clear, the plan was quickly abandoned and CHRI could begin to establish its roots as an international organisation in the global South. This was the area that needed most focus. Although this move was a radical thought for the time, it is now apparent that it was a successful one. Our position in the global South has allowed us access to, as well as primary contact with, local partners.
Today, CHRI is a well-established and well-known organisation. From the New Delhi office, we coordinate activities with the Accra and London offices as we advocate for and promote awareness of human rights violations in all Commonwealth countries. Our primary mandate is to promote awareness of and adherence to the Harare Principles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other internationally recognised human rights instruments and declarations made by the Commonwealth Heads of Government, as well as domestic instruments supporting human rights in the Commonwealth. This mandate permits us to make strategic interventions even as we retain a steady focus specifically on Access to Information and Access to Justice..
The London Office has played a vital role since CHRI’s inception. Owing to its strategic position, it acts as a liaison between the Headquarters in New Delhi, the Africa Office in Accra, and the UK government and official Commonwealth bodies, such as the Secretariat and the Human Rights Unit. It plays a significant role in our international advocacy programmes. The Office has played a vital role in raising CHRI’s profile in the global North and Western hemisphere, as well as securing funding as a registered UK charity.
Activities in recent years include: the Overseas Territories Project with the Commonwealth Foundation and Commonwealth Legal Education Association (CLEA), which built capacity for human rights within the British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean, the Pacific and South Atlantic; examining the Commonwealth's Media Freedom laws; and advocating for the repeal of legislation criminalising the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) community.
As the Headquarters in India began to stabilise itself, the governing boards of CHRI decided to create an office in Africa to pay greater attention to the 15 Commonwealth countries in Africa. The office was set up in 2001 in Ghana, a stable, democratic and increasingly influential African Commonwealth country, where there was also a welcome for the initiative. CHRI’s Africa Office follows the same mandate and focus areas as the Headquarters, and mirrors the same patterns of progression in its work. As it slowly took root in Ghana, the office had to deal with similar dilemmas as the office in India had: to balance its role as an international organisation having a wide geographical mandate, with the expectations from a human rights organisation within Ghana itself.
The office used this situation to develop and deepen its expertise and advocacy on focus issues in Ghana, while furthering its larger mandate through strategic interventions and campaigns. To extend CHRI’s reach in Africa, the work of the Africa Office is complemented from Headquarters, especially on policing in East Africa and at the UNHRC. The Africa Office has observer status at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. CHRI is a key member of the steering committee and the secretariat for the Right to Information coalition in Ghana. We continue our efforts in raising awareness of the embedded constitutional right to access information. We have had several successes with advocacy efforts against instant justice, against police brutality and against extrajudicial killings in the Gambia. We set up public-police forums and justice centres, which reduced the number of wrongful arrests. We work on minority rights, particularly on disability and mental health, advocating for the rights of a marginalised group. Today the office has eight staff, ably supported by interns and volunteers from around the world. Its work focuses on Access to Justice, Access to Information and strategic interventions to promote human rights in Africa.