CHRI was founded by five professional bodies:

 The Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA)
 The Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) 
 The Commonwealth Legal Education Association (CLEA) 
 The Commonwealth Trade Union Council
 The Commonwealth Medical Association

These organisations felt that while the Commonwealth countries shared a common set of values and legal principles, they lacked a forum from which to promote human rights and set human rights standards. CHRI came into being to fill the gap.

In 1996, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) joined CHRI's team of sponsors and the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) joined in 1999. The Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) joined CHRI's board of constituting organisations more recently. The CTUC and CMA have since disbanded and are therefore no longer our sponsoring bodies.