1. What We Do
2. Where We Work
What we Do
CHRI’s work is split into two core themes: Access to Information and Access to Justice, which includes Prison Reform, Police Reform, and advocacy on media rights and the South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN). CHRI additionally monitors the human rights situation across the Commonwealth through its International Advocacy and Programming (IAP) unit.
Access to Information: Our ATI programme advocates for the realisation of people’s basic human right to access information from government and other public bodies in Commonwealth countries. Access to information was the foundation on which CHRI’s other programmes were established. CHRI believes that without the initial knowledge to hold governments to account, justice cannot be served. Informed participation by all must therefore be guaranteed by a strong legislation and the process of law-making itself must be participatory and informed by the realities of communities. You can read more about our RTI activities here.
Police Reforms (Access to Justice): In too many countries the police are seen as an oppressive instrument of state rather than as protectors of citizens’ rights, leading to widespread rights violations and denial of justice. CHRI promotes systemic reform so that the police act as upholders of the rule of law rather than as instruments of the current regime. In India, CHRI’s programme aims at mobilising public support for police reform. In South Asia, CHRI works to strengthen civil society engagement on police reforms. In East Africa and Ghana, CHRI is examining police accountability issues and political interference.
Prison Reforms (Access to Justice): CHRI’s work is focused on increasing transparency of a traditionally closed system and exposing malpractices. A major area is focussed on highlighting failures of the legal system that result in terrible overcrowding and unconscionably long pre-trial detention and prison overstays, and engaging in interventions to ease this. Another area of concentration is aimed at reviving the prison oversight systems that have completely failed We believe that attention to these areas will bring improvements to the administration of prisons as well as have a knock-on effect on the administration of justice overall.
International Advocacy and Programming: The IAP team monitors Commonwealth states’ compliance with civil, political and human rights obligations, and advocates for their strengthening. It strategically engages with regional and global mechanisms, and regularly advocates for reform within the Commonwealth and stronger response mechanisms to stem human rights violations. IAP reviews Commonwealth members’ human rights commitments at UN forums; monitors the performance of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the Commonwealth while advocating for their strengthening. It also presses for the protection of human rights defenders, journalists, RTI activists and civil society space.
South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN): South Asia has a poor record in the areas of freedom of speech and expression where the space for voicing dissenting opinions has shrunk, gradually but alarmingly. With growing attacks against the press in mind, in late 2017, CHRI launched its newest initiative, the South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN) to monitor, address and campaign to solve problems faced by journalists in the region. SAMDEN’s core group includes eminent professionals such as such as Bangladesh’s Mahfuz Anam of the Daily Star, Kanak Mani Dixit of Himal in Nepal, Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN's unit on journalists in prison, Mrinal Pande, veteran editor and author, John Zubrzycki (a Sydney-based journalist, author specialising in South Asia), Siddharth Varadarajan, Founding Editor of The Wire, and Sanjoy Hazarika, former correspondent for the New York Times and now International Director at CHRI, among several others.
Where We Work
HEADQUARTER; NEW DELHI, INDIA
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 was able to establish its roots as an international organisation in the global South. This was the area that needed most focus. Although this move was considered radical at the time, it has proved 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 Informationand Access to Justice.
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM
CHRI’s London office (registered charity no. 803325) is uniquely positioned to influence human rights in the Commonwealth. Our presence in London puts us at the heart of Commonwealth activity – this was particularly the case in the lead-up to the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the United Kingdom. The London office has been leading research and advocacy work on achieving SDG 8.7 within the Commonwealth since 2016, including its leading advocacy to achieve Commonwealth action on SDG 8.7 at CHOGM 2018. This summit also saw the UK designated as the Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth for a period of two years, creating a unique moment when both the Chair-in-Office and the official Commonwealth bodies are both in the same location.
CHRI London works through targeted engagement with the Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth institutions and organisations, as well as Member States through their diplomatic missions in London. Our strategy for the period 2016-2020 focuses on holding the Commonwealth to account on human rights commitments; amplifying the work of CHRI through Commonwealth liaison; and strengthening the Commonwealth’s core concern for human rights.
These priorities build upon the strong record of CHRI London, which we have built since our activism during the Nigerian dictatorships of the 1990s, and more recently through our influence in relation to post-conflict Sri Lanka, as well as leading advocacy for Commonwealth action on the deteriorating situation in the Maldives, which was key to the Maldives inclusion on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group Agenda.
The Accra office of CHRI is the centre of the organisation’s work in Commonwealth African countries. It has, since its inception in 2001, made significant strides in achieving the mandate of ensuring transparency and accountability in governance. CHRI’s Africa Office follows the same mandate and focus areas as the Headquarters, and mirrors the same patterns of progression in its work.
The office was set up as the CHRI headquarters in India began to stabilise, with a view to pay greater attention to the 15 Commonwealth countries in the continent. Ghana, a stable, democratic and increasingly influential African Commonwealth country, was a natural choice and a good fit for the work. As it slowly took root in the country, 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.
Since then, CHRI Africa has spearheaded the formation of a Coalition on the Right to Information with membership from the National Media Commission, religious bodies, non-governmental organisations, the Ghana Bar Association and journalists. The coalition meets regularly to brainstorm on direction of its advocacy and to exchange information on the issue. A significant victory for the team came on 22 May 2019 when Ghanian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo gave assent to the Right to Information Act in Accra.
The office has also been working towards the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints Commission/Authority (IPCC/A) since 2005. Part of its current advocacy, which has been ongoing since 2014, is centred around re-activating and sustaining the debate on the need for an IPCC in Ghana, and as increasing citizen awareness and participation in its discourse. To this end, it has conducted research on IPCC models around the world, and engaged CSOs and stakeholders.