CHRI and partners convene conference for Commonwealth Parliamentarians in London

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference on the Rule of Law and Human Rights, an initiative of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI),  organised in partnership with the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA UK), who led the project management and delivery, the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Commonwealth Secretariat (ComSec), and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WfD).

The Conference was held in London over three days, from 24th to the 26th of January 2017. The first day was hosted at Marlborough House, and the second and third at the Palace of Westminster. The objectives of the conference were:

  • to develop the skills and knowledge of parliamentarians on the rule of law,
  • the promotion and protection of human rights and the human rights committee procedures,
  • to strengthen existing regional Commonwealth Parliamentary Human Rights Groups for the promotion of human rights and rule of law, and
  • to continue advocacy on a set of principles and / or guidelines for the promotion of rule of law and human rights for national and sub-national legislatures.              

Day 1:

The conference was opened by Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland QC and Harriet Harman, Chair of the UK’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. Scotland emphasised the opportunity for the parliamentarians to work together to address human rights issues facing people around the world, while Harman focused on the essential role of parliamentarians in holding government to account.

The opening of the conference.

Day 1 focused on the role of parliaments in producing human rights legislation and treaty implementation.

The first session, chaired by Baroness D'Souza and Dr Alice Donald examined how parliamentarians can effectively champion human-rights legislation. This included highlighting the key role of parliamentary advisors in providing guidance to parliamentary committees.

There followed a session on how parliamentarians can address human rights issues. This session was chaired by Friends of CHRI Patron, Baroness Vivien Stern, and Agostinho Neto, of the Kenya National Assembly, and included break-out sessions on the topics of Women's Rights and Equality, Access to Justice, and Poverty, facilitated by CHRI London Chair Sophie Rigney, CHRI London trustee Sadakat Kadri, and ComSec’s Justin Petit.

After lunch Baroness Prashar, and Lord Fusitu'a of Tonga, and Murray Hunt, Legal Adviser to the UK’s JCHR led a session on the role of Human Rights Committees.

The final session of the day focused on the role of parliaments in complying with its obligations towards implementing treaties.

Day 1 closed with a reception hosted by Baroness Anelay of St Johns DBE, UK Minister of State for the Commonwealth and and Dr Josephine Ojiambo, ComSec’s Deputy Secretary-General for Political Affairs. CHRI was delighted to invite members of the Commonwealth Equality Network, Modern Slavery advocates, and Friends of CHRI based in London.

Day 2:

The theme of day 2 focused on developing and relationships with the executive, and other parliamentary committees. 

The first session, chaired by Canadian MP Anthony Housefather included speeches with Les Allamby, from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Kipkemoi Arap Kirui, principal Clerk of the Kenya National Assembly, and Allan Hogarth from Amnesty UK

Following this session, delegates were split into small groups to share experience and good practice.

Following lunch, Robert McCorquodale of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, about Business and Human Rights spoke, and there was then a chance to attend a JCRH hearing on Modern Slavery.  

To conclude the day delegates split into regional groups to facilitate networking and sharing of good practice.

Day 3:

Day 3 commenced with a breakfast meeting for Chairs of Committee to agree the final conference Communiqué, facilitated by CHRI London Chair Sophie Rigney, and Justin Pettit of ComSec.

The first full session of the morning was chaired by Fiona Mactaggart MP, Chair of UK’s Human Trafficking APPG and Sarah Newton MP, who gave an overview of modern slavery as a key human rights issue.

There followed a mock committee hearing on human trafficking, with Katherine Bryant, Research Manager at the Walk Free Foundation and a senior UK police officer being questioned by conference participants.

In the final session, delegates used the evidence gathered in discussions with representatives from organisations from Unseen, and Human Trafficking Foundation.

The conference came to a close with lunch at the Speaker’s House. Malaysian MP, Kasthuri Patto gave the final address with a passionate encouragement to parliamentarians to be “agents for change” in their countries in order to protect and promote human rights.