Joint Committee On Human Rights Sixth Report

80. Memorandum from The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative


  CHRI has sought to base its submission on answering the parliamentary committee's questions based on the experiences of the 17 national human rights commissions in the Commonwealth.

CHRI submits

  1.  There are definite gaps in the promotion of protection of human rights in the UK. Practices of a number of Commonwealth National Human Rights Commissions demonstrate that a national human rights commission in the UK would be well placed to fill these gaps.

  2.  The UKHRC should work closely with NGOs in fostering a human rights culture, human rights education and developing expertise in human rights.

  3.  The UKHRC should operate with a broad definition of human rights, including economic and social rights.

  4.  The UKHRC should have the following functions—

    —  promote awareness of human rights and foster a human rights culture

    —  undertake measures to implement human rights education

    —  conduct and publish research

    —  provide training to those responsible for upholding human rights

    —  assist the government in ensuring policy, practice and legislation is in line with international human rights standards

    —  provide advice to individuals who feel their rights have been infringed

    —  respond to complaints where they are found to be admissible

    —  initiate legal proceedings

    —  intervene in court proceeding as amicus curiae

    —  hold public inquiries

  5.  The Human Rights Commission would work closely with the Joint Committee on Human Rights, whilst maintaining its independence. Their relationship could be outlined in a memorandum of understanding.

  6.  There should be separate human rights commissions in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. These commissions should

co-operate closely, whilst the UK Human Rights Commission should play a co-ordinating role and fulfill national obligations.

  7.  The Human Rights Commission would collaborate closely with the various equality commissions. It would co-ordinate with the commissions to avoid duplicity. Their relationship should be outlined in a memorandum of understanding and kept under review.

  8.  The appointment process, management and funding of the commission must be free of political interference to ensure independence.

  9.  The UKHRC should be accountable to Parliament through the Human Rights Committee and also to the public via the wide dissemination of reports.


  CHRI would like to thank Nadia-Jabine Sharif for her contribution to this research. We would also like to thank the Human Rights Unit at the Commonwealth Secretariat for its assistance in conducting this research.


  Today the UK is signatory to several international Human Rights instruments including—

    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966).

    International Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights (1966).

    UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).

    Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979).

    International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (1967).

    International Convention Against Torture, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment and Punishment (1984).

  UK is also signatory to regional human rights instruments—

    European Convention on Human Rights (1950).

    European Social Charter (1961).

  In 1998 the Human Rights Act came into force, however there is no specific body that monitors human rights compliance in the UK. Many Commonwealth countries monitor their human rights practice and compliance with national, regional and international human rights treaties through National Human Rights Commissions (NHRCs). NHRCs have a dual role of protection by addressing the levels of human rights violations whilst simultaneously promoting human rights by creating a human rights culture within society. Rapid expansion of NHRCs within the Commonwealth may be traced to the Declarations or Statements, which have been issued by Commonwealth Heads of Government at various summits. The most significant of these are the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles (1971) and the Harare Commonwealth Declaration (1991), which set out the Commonwealth's commitment to democracy and governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, racial and gender equality, and sustainable economic and social development.

  Whilst many of the Commonwealth's member countries are small and least developed or developing countries, this does not preclude their ability to share common values. Commonwealth countries share a system of law facilitating the development of common standards of legal behaviour, common definitions of the relations between the courts and other national institutions. [42]Although little has yet been written on the effectiveness of Commonwealth Human Rights Commissions and their own literature is generally more descriptive than evaluative, this submission attempts to glean some lessons from their experience and make positive suggestions for the creation of a United Kingdom Human Rights Commission (UKHRC). There is no model human rights commission, each country's historical, political and economic context is different and the form and priorities of each commission depend on that context. Therefore this submission is of a practical nature illustrating effective processing and strategies for good practices drawn from institutions in diverse countries. CHRIs submission uses the questionnaire format set out in the Joint Committee's call for evidence.


  The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) works for the practical realisation of human rights in the everyday lives of all the people within the Commonwealth. It is a non-partisan independent international nongovernmental organisation. Several Commonwealth Associations—the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA), the Commonwealth Trade Union Council (CTUC), the Commonwealth Lawyers (CLA), the Commonwealth Legal Education Association (CLEA), and the Commonwealth Medical Association (CMA), founded CHRI in 1987. More recently the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) has joined CHRI's team of sponsors.

  CHRI aims to raise awareness of and adherence to internationally recognised human rights instruments and declarations made by the Commonwealth Heads of Governments and most particular those embodied in the Harare Principles. CHRI has a unique perspective on the domain of human rights, which encompasses not just civil and political right but also socio-economic rights as well as third generation rights. It is particularly interested in the debate over United Kingdom's human rights mechanisms as it believes that monitoring and application of basic human rights standards are crucial to any human rights policy.


  CHRI advocates the establishment NHRCs due to their primary function of promoting and protecting human rights. CHRI envisages NHRCs with significant input from civil society so that they are accessible and influential. NHRCs can only function effectively if civil society knows about them, how to access them and how to use these institutions to protect their rights. As a consequence CHRI has developed a Human Rights Commission Programme, which will seek to improve NHRCs' productivity by examining their procedures, informing the public about their work and how they can be accessed and, in particular making these institutions gender sensitive. CHRI's Human Rights Commission Programme aims to achieve their objectives by focusing on several different areas.

Conferences and Workshops

  The aim of CHRI's workshop is to mobilise communities to create NHRCs where there is none. For example in India 18 out of 28 states do not have NHRCs. These workshops and conferences provide the opportunity to share experience in order to improve the effectiveness of these institutions. For example the "Commonwealth Human Rights Institution: Promoting Good Practice" seminar shared experiences of Commonwealth NHRCs and considered ways to improve the institutions' functioning and effectiveness.

Public Education

  Public education is essential to contributing towards an effective functioning of NHRCs. If the civil society is not educated and informed, the purpose of NHRCs will be futile, as it will unable to make an impact to the sphere of human rights. One of the methods used by CHRI to educate and inform the civil society is by holding conferences and workshops.

Policy Submissions

  CHRI works at policy levels and aids in the formulation of legislation dealing with national NHRCs. For example in May 1999 CHRI made a submission to the newly constituted Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NINHRC) as a result NINHRC requested that CHRI participates further in their consultation process for policy development.


  On an advocacy level CHRI tries to push for the establishment of effective and independent institution for the protection and promotion of human rights for jurisdictions where no NHRCs exist. Where they do exist we advocate for the improvement of the functioning NHRCs.

Research and Documentation

  The objective of CHRI research and proposals is to apprehend and evaluate the work of NHRCs in the Commonwealth, so that human rights advocates can use this information on how to establish, approach, improve and use NHRCs. The case studies provided by CHRI give examples of best practises that can be shared among national institutions across jurisdictions. For example "The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka—The First Year" is a study of the newly constituted national human rights commission in Sri Lanka.

1.   What (if anything) do you think a Human Rights Commission might add to the current methods of protecting human rights in the United Kingdom?

  At present in the UK courts parliament and governmental bodies protect human rights nationally. Regionally the European Court of Human Rights helps to develop a consistent approach to human rights. Internationally the United Nations provides mechanisms for monitoring the application of its human rights treaties. At present the UK has an Information Commissioner, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission and no body that deals specifically with broader human rights issues. There is no body created and existing with the specific purpose of protecting and promoting human rights, and no specific body with the primary function of monitoring the Human Rights Act 1998. An ad hoc approach will not suffice. In dealing with human rights on a case by case basis the courts fail to take into account the wider human rights issues. There is a need not just to review legislation but also to bring human rights into a single domain. Hence it is essential to fill this gap with a Human Rights Commission that will provide a specialist, integrated and wholesome approach to human rights.

  In particular, are there useful functions in connection with protecting human rights and developing a culture of human rights, which do not fall within the remit of any existing agency in the United Kingdom, such as:

    (a)   Fostering a human rights culture within the United Kingdom;

  In order for a NHRC to function effectively it is crucial to foster a human rights culture. In the United Kingdom, CHRI feels that the concept of human rights has not developed as it has globally and that human rights is felt to be a notion marginalised and restricted to courts and lawyers. The new Human Rights Act is an opportunity to develop a culture of respect for human rights. However very little has been done to promote such a culture. Although the UK has been a long time member of the European Union, there are also equivocal feelings towards Europe. Due to a lack of commitment by many politicians, the civil service has also followed suit and is reluctant to embrace the principles of the Human Rights Act. As a result, this has created a negative culture against Human Rights Act not just from the perspective of politicians but also from the civil service and other public bodies. The government is partly to blame for the creation of negative culture because there was a lack of promotion of the new act or more appropriately a lack of a human rights body to promote this act.

  A Human Rights Commission is responsible under the Paris Principle section A 3 (g) entitled "Competence and Responsibilities" for;

    "To publicise human rights and efforts to combat all forms of discrimination . . . by increasing public awareness, especially through information and education and by making use of all press organs."

  CHRI ardently believes that civil society is central in fostering a human rights culture. The Commonwealth Secretary General also spoke about the enlarged role of civil society:

    "All around the world governments are being downsized and their role is being redefined. This is creating greater space for civil society and the non-governmental sector generally. An active civil society helps to bring the concerns of society to the attention of government, thus compelling government to address them." [43]

  In order for a NHRC to produce credible and good quality work it is essential for NHRC to be independent from party politics and liaise more closely with intellectual resources of society, service providers, NGOs, human rights experts, civil society and those responsible for upholding human rights. The move away from formal courts and greater interaction with civil society will develop a greater fostering of human rights culture.

  The majority of national human rights institutions in the Commonwealth are mandated with the task of fostering a human rights culture. The Canadian Human Rights Commission is obliged to foster education, research, and public understanding and is tasked with the creation of a more favourable human rights environment through advocacy and information. The National Human Rights Commission of India has the similar duty to promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, the media, seminars and other available means. The Malawi Human Rights Commission is mandated to promote the human rights, particularly of vulnerable groups, such as children, illiterate persons, persons with disabilities and the elderly. One of the functions of the Human Rights Commission in New Zealand is to encourage the maintenance and development of harmonious relations between individuals and among the diverse groups in New Zealand society. The means available to the UKHRC to resolve complaints will affect public perception and its ability to foster a human rights culture.

  Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have the capacity to become major allies of a Human Rights Commission, in their fight for the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as playing a fundamental role in fostering a human rights culture.

  Section C (g) of the UN Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles), Method of Operation emphasises the importance of a constructive and cooperative relationship between a NHRC and an NGO. This section claims

    "In view of the fundamental role played by non-governmental organisation in expanding the work of national institutions, national institution relations with non-governmental organisations devoted to promoting and protecting human rights, to economic and social development, to combating racism, to protecting particularly vulnerable groups (especially children, migrant workers, refugees, physically and mentally disabled people) or to specialised areas"

  Throughout the Commonwealth, NGOs contribute to the effectiveness of NHRCs. The NHRC should seek to develop relations with NGOs devoted to human rights, economic and social development protecting particularly vulnerable groups (the homeless, elderly, children, refugees and mentally and physically disabled). According to the IPPR NGOs enhance the visibility of the Commission by contributing to public awareness of the Commissions existence. They can serve as an intermediary for victims of violations, provide detailed information about the situation on the ground and the inadequacies of current legislation and they can provide a complementary partner in particular partners in particular projects and educational initiatives. [44]The UKHRC should take examples from best practises in the Commonwealth.

  In Ghana the Commission meets monthly with a Co-ordinating Committee of Human Rights NGOs to discuss priorities and strategies. The UKHRC may follow the example of the Ugandan Commission and organise a workshop with participants from NGOs and representative of civil society in the sphere of human rights for the purpose of a mapping exercise. As a result of this workshop the Ugandan Commission learned each organisations remit and activities and hence reduced duplication and improved co-operation. This also proved to be good publicity for the Commission. The Ugandan Commission has also formed a Co-ordination Committee for co-ordinating civic education initiatives, which will serve as the main focal point for collaboration between the Commission and NGOs.

  In New Zealand, it is a statutory requirement for the Commission to "consult and cooperate with other persons and bodies concerned with the protection of human rights".[45] The New Zealand Commission is regularly consulted over the preparation of reports to the Treaty bodies. Australia's Privacy Commissioner has an advisory committee comprised of interested organisations, The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is specifically mandated to work with NGOs. It took NGO views into account when preparing recommendations to government on the draft UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has commissioned reports from NGOs, for example on protection of people with disabilities. It has found NGOs to be vital in encouraging and assisting individuals to give evidence to its enquiries. [46]

  There is a vast array of NGO's with the specific objective to promote and protect rights, and many NGO's will contribute positively to a NHRC. NGOs that engage in research and analysis can assist with the establishment of a new commission, form an advisory role and undertake joint projects with NHRCs. CHRI is one such NGO which has experience in promoting human rights as well as expertise in formulating strategies for strengthening national human rights institutions, gained from its seminars and workshops attended by numerous human rights commissioners and staff, as well as from its research in the area. CHRI also has experience in providing training and education in the form of Human Rights Commission Programme.

 (b)   Education in human rights;

  The task of fostering a culture of human rights is intimately linked with education in human rights, particularly the education of civil society. NHRCs thrive best in environments with a high degree of human rights literacy. [47]Many of the treaties that the UK is signatory to oblige governments to educate citizens about their rights. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) not only defines the role of education in achieving respect and protection of human rights but also outlines how it will be used in the promotion of human rights. Article 26 of the UDHR outlines the aims of education

    ". . . education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace".

  Currently there is no body responsible for human rights education therefore one of the primary tasks of the Commission will be to educate civil society. This is also reinforced by the Paris Principles, Section A 3 (f) and (g), entitled "Competence and Responsibilities" which require all national institutions

    "To assist in the formulation of programmes for the teaching of, and research into, human rights and to take part in their execution in schools, universities and professional circles."

  And (g)

    "To publicise human rights and efforts to combat all forms of discrimination, in particular racial discrimination, by increasing public awareness, especially through information and education and by making use of all press organs".

  Amnesty International strongly advocates that human rights education will "help prevent violations, strengthens actions and campaign, creates a space for dialogue and change, encourages respect and tolerance, integrating the principles of Human Rights into everyday life".[48] National Human Rights Commissions can operate systematically to influence the depth and breadth of human rights education in all walks of life, and act as a co-ordinating body lending weight and credibility to the values underpinning the protection of human rights.


  The 1997 Commonwealth survey illustrated a deficiency of human rights knowledge by school children in Northern Ireland. [49]Whereby only 6 per cent of school children knew about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In contrast 68 per cent of the children in India had been informed. Promoting understanding and awareness about human rights in schools and teacher training colleges should be a priority for the UKHRC.

  The UKHRC could promote respect for and observance of human rights at a young age for maximum awareness of human rights and its institutions. The Commission could promote understanding and awareness about human rights in schools and as well as in teacher training colleges because teachers will play a primary role in creating a human rights culture to younger members of civil society. The commission will need to research into this area to develop not just for the human rights under the Human Rights Act 1998, but also those enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Child.

  The Commonwealth survey identified a range of timetabled subjects in which human rights could be incorporated. [50]It would be most cost effective for the UKHRC to co-operate with NGOs and other civil society groups which are working towards including human rights in the curriculum. Many organisations within the UK and globally provide human rights resources. For example, in Britain the Centre for Global Education produced a handbook for teaching human rights in primary school entitled "Our World Our Rights". Similarly resource packs have also been produced by both the National Union of Teachers and UNICEF. Other organisations such as Amnesty International combined efforts with Team Videos and produced a video resource pack for secondary school pupils called "Why Human Rights".

  A UKHRC should not just coordinate and make accessible the already available human rights material but could also produce its own educational materials and commission the production of such materials. For example The Indian Commission worked with the National Council for Educational Research and Training to release a book entitled "Human Rights: A Source Book" intended for teachers and students, policymakers and curriculum developers. The Commission also co-operated with the department and translated the book into minority languages.

  The UKHRC may follow the examples set by the Commonwealth, whereby human rights are taught actively in schools. In New Zealand, the NHRC commissioned the University of Waikato's School of Education to write the new human rights components of the national social studies curriculum. The team compromised of a primary, an intermediate and a secondary school teacher whom combined their experience and teaching knowledge to produce a human rights resource for New Zealand schools. Similarly in South Africa the Commission is assisting the Department of Education to develop a human rights education component for use in schools and promotes alternatives to corporal punishment.

  One of the Commissions primary tasks could be the creation of a human rights culture within the educational system. This can partially be achieved by helping to arrange human rights assemblies (numerous NGOs have already produced ready-to-use human rights assembly packs), providing educational trips to the NHRC, like trips to the Houses of Parliament. If the distance is too far Commission could provide human rights touring exhibition and even support human rights essay competition on a regional and national level.

  The commission could also consider human rights education at university level. This can be achieved by arranging tours at freshers' fairs at beginning of each academic year or even a compulsory core subject on human rights for all university students. For example the Cameroon Commission, through a joint initiative, incorporated human rights into the curriculum of the National Higher School of Administration and Magistrates, the Police Academy and universities. It also has plans to include human rights in the curriculum for primary and secondary schools. In India the commission interacted with the Indian Medical Association to incorporate medical ethics and human rights into the curriculum for the medical students. In addition, it prepared a distance learning course for "Family Physicians as Counsellors for Torture Survivors". The Indian Commission approached the Chief Minister of each State with specific ideas for training and sensitising their officials, and suggestions for the education authorities and to universities on how human rights could be included within the curriculum, including reviewing textbooks prejudicial to human rights, introducing a source-book of human rights materials, and establishing university level courses.


  Those outside the jurisdiction of formal schooling need to be educated about their rights, this can be carried out by numerous ways. The primary function on the issue of educating civil society will be to inform civil society about their rights and the function of a NHRC.

  The UKHRC could act as a public centre for human rights information. This could include providing general information brochures, tailored to specific audiences, and drawing up a plan for dissemination. The material disseminated could include information about the UKHRC, human rights standards binding on the UK, relevant training events, guidelines or codes of conduct for specific professions or groups, such as journalists and the judiciary. The UKHRC may pursue the example of the Australian Commission, which houses a library that is open to the public with online and CD Rom data base searches available. The Canadian Federal Commission responds to enquiries from journalists and puts out public service announcements on the radio. The South African Commission circulates information and posters on the Bill of Rights in 11 official languages. [51]The UKHRC could also provide free telephone help lines which could be used to provide a range of information including legal advice on human rights matters. NHRCs should target vulnerable groups as they are unlikely to be reached through traditional education campaigns.

  The Canadian Federal Commission has an internet information service. [52]Web pages can provide a large and diverse range of information. Developing a website and making information available online is a cost effective way of educating the public. Via the web the UKHRC could inform the public of seminars, events, NHRC related activities, research and also produce newsletters informing the community of its work. Translations of the Human Rights Act could be made available here. The internet could also be used to publicise the educational materials available from the commission. The UKHRC could set up "live discussions" on the web so that civil society can interact with the commission regularly either on a weekly or fortnightly basis. During the "Promoting Good Practices" seminar co-ordinated by IPPR and CHRI, it was suggested that that NHRCs should establish an electronic forum for the exchange of ideas among Commonwealth Commissions. The UKHRC could also provide links to other human rights organisations and sources of information. Finally the UKHRC web page could provide information like the Australian, South African and New Zealand commissions have, regarding the complaints procedure, decisions and statistics.

  There is an urgent need to initiate a public discourse on human rights. The NHRC could seek to generate public discussion on human rights issues by initiating public hearings on its annual reports, recommendations and the findings from its investigations. Another way of engaging public debate on human rights is to organise regular roundtable discussions on human rights issues involving experts, practitioners and interested members of the public. The South African Commission has arranged public hearings on their annual report, to engender public debate about the Commission's work, which subsequently increased the awareness of the existence and work of the Commission. This is also an important strategy for publicising any failings by Parliament in its complying with the commission's recommendations. In Ghana, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) has carried out public education through seminars and workshops. The CHRAJ education programme encompasses the controversial issues such as witchcraft as well as educating civil society on the complaints procedure and traditional human rights. A NHRC can not only promote adherence to international standards but also focus and solve domestic issues especially cultural or ritual practises.

  Another awareness-raising strategy could be special events or campaigns in the run up to, and during, important national and international human rights dates such as Human Rights Day. In South Africa the commission, in a joint initiative, organised a major musical event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration. Furthermore, a dinner was hosted, which drew in guests from civil society, the judiciary, academics and others. This activity led to the adoption of a National Plan for Human Rights. The Indian Commission also encourages debate in the media, for instance the use of child labour, and has used events such as UN Human Rights Day as a focus. [53]The Australia Commission ran a major campaign to raise awareness of women about the protection provided by the Sex Discrimination Act against sexual harassment, focusing on prevention. [54]

  The NHRC will have to reach out proactively to vulnerable and disadvantaged persons. Those most in need of help will often be more difficult to reach. Using the media is an influential means of promoting human rights as demonstrated by the following examples from the Commonwealth. Analysis of the complaints received by the Ugandan Commission showed that investigations taken up by the Commission are usually based on violations alleged or reported in the media. [55]The Canadian Federal Commission put out several public service announcements on the radio. They used voices of ordinary Canadians in 30-second items to explain the meaning of human rights in every day life. The Malawi Commission has also followed a similar route with the use of radio and by sponsoring plays, which will arouse public interest in the human rights discourse. The Cameroon Commission has gone one step further and set up its own regular radio and TV programme "Born Free".

(c)  Advising and assisting people who claim to be victims of violations of their Convention rights

  CHRI feels the Commission cannot solely take responsibility advising and assisting people who claim to be victims of violations. Nevertheless, CHRI proposes that the Commission work in conjunction with law centres, lawyers and NGOs. The UKHRC should instead focus their energies on promoting the best possible standard of human rights advice within the advice sector on human rights. The Commission will therefore become a source of expertise to the advice-sector and will provide them with materials and training on human rights law and practice. The Commission should try and facilitate a network organisation dispensing advice as well as publish and maintain a digest or database of the cases. The IPPR believes that the service provided by the Commission to these organisations would not only give the complainant appropriate advice but should also dismiss and discourage weak litigation at the public's expense. [56]

  The Commonwealth reflects two possible practises whereby some Commissions provide direct assistance and alternatively others refer the complaint to an investigative body or legal proceeding institute. In Malawi, the Commission only investigates a complaint if it falls within its mandate. If the complaint is beyond its jurisdiction then it is referred to an appropriate body who will then monitor the situation. Where complaints are outside the commission's remit it should refer the complainant to the relevant equality commission where appropriate.

  CHRI submits that the UKHRC be mandated to receive and investigate violations where complaints are found to be admissible. The commission should also produce a report and make recommendations to the appropriate authority and in certain cases aid conciliation and settlement (see question nine on functions of the commission). At the moment there is no existing agency dealing with human rights in this way.

(d)  Developing expertise in human rights

  Commonwealth NHRCs have tried a range of innovative means to develop expertise in human rights. The UKHRC may follow New Zealand's strategy and facilitate a Human Rights Award and Medal contest, in which individuals as well as organisations are rewarded annually for their work in human rights. Such an award would generate expert research and contribution especially if the award receives substantial publicity and launched by a public ceremony.

  An annual theme may also encourage the developing expertise. The theme could be proposed by civil society or it could be based on human rights legislation, for example the first year could be on children's rights and the following year could be on minority rights. By alternating the theme each year, the NHRC will develop expertise in a variety of human rights fields. The NHRC may also find it useful to organise specialist conferences and seminars to develop expertise in human rights.

  It is worth noting that a human rights commission may have greater access to the Government than NGOs. This therefore gives the UKHRC a potentially influential position, vis a vis parliamentarians, civil servants and other public bodies, from which to protect and promote human rights. A particularly innovative suggestion for keeping politicians aware of human rights is the example of the New Zealand Commission which provides all politicians with a loose-leaf information file entitled "A Guide to Human Rights for Politicians". The pack describes the role of the commission, and the international treaties which are binding on New Zealand. It is updated by regular mailings every three months. Such a strategy could be adapted by the UKHRC not only for politicians, but also other professional bodies interested in dealing with human rights, notably social workers, immigration workers, immigration officers, the army and the police.

  The Ugandan Commission holds consultative meetings with all state organs that deal with the administration of justice, including the police, prisons, judges, and the Director of Public Prosecutions. It has proposed to establish a Human Rights Desk in all government departments to inform and advise civil servants on human rights issues. Another suggestion was to include human rights as a component of all entry exams for government positions to increase the knowledge of human rights in the civil service. [57]

  Most commissions provide training to those responsible for upholding human rights standards. By training the police, the armed forces, and immigration officers, amongst others, it is hoped that a human rights culture will develop. Training should not be limited to law enforcement officials as the promotion of economic and social rights will increasingly require rights based knowledge among housing, health and education officers. As well undertaking promotional work with politicians by arranging briefing sessions with cabinet ministers to discuss the steps being taken to ensure compliance with the Bill of Rights, [58]the South African Commission has conducted workshops at the invitation of government departments, including those responsible for immigration. It also trains the trainers, working with them to produce training manuals. The content of the training depends on the profession of the group being trained. Generally though most professions and public bodies are in need of an overview of international and national human rights standards, including the Human Rights Act and how it affects them.

  It should be mandatory for the commissioners and staff of the UKHRC to have human rights training. Even though some of the commissioners will have a human rights background, there may be aspects of their work where they need some practical advice. For example, the Australian Commissioners undertook a course on media training which offered advice on how best to perform in interviews. The New Zealand Commissioners receive regular skills training in conciliation techniques, investigation techniques and legal issues raised by their work.

  A commission may choose to conduct its own training programmes itself. The New Zealand Commission, for example, arranged training for employers and service providers to raise awareness of discriminatory practices. They even provided "road shows" or travelling groups of trainers who carried out low cost seminars on sexual harassment for employers. The commission publishes a wide range of information sheets on the Human Rights Act and specific aspects of discrimination. Due to high demand for these services the New Zealand Commission has been able to establish a self-funding sexual harassment prevention consultancy. [59]The Advisory Commission of the Australian Human Rights Commission arranged a workshop for journalists on the Racial Hatred Act.

  A commission may also further assist on the training of trainers by producing training manuals. Or it may be a more cost effective method for the commission to facilitate training or delegate training to other groups. The UKHRC could draw on the expertise of NGOs which have already devised training programmes, such as Amnesty International, Liberty and Justice. It should be noted that the Human Rights Unit of the Commonwealth Secretariat has experience in training public officials including judges and staff of national human rights bodies. Furthermore, it provides technical assistance and training materials. The UKHRC could make use of such services and resources.

(e)  Bringing legal proceedings on human rights issues in the public interest?

  It is essential for the commission to possess the crucial power of bringing legal proceedings on human rights issues in the public interest. There may be circumstances, whereby the Commission will need to bring proceedings in their own name as opposed to individuals due to cost, controversial or sensitive issues or the publicity surrounding the case may deter litigants. The Human Rights Commission will be well placed to provide information and advice to the court due to its expertise and research. The power to initiate legal proceedings will reduce weak litigation and place more emphasis on the stronger cases.

  Baroness Lockwood supports this notion and states that ". . . the Commission helped codify the act by carefully selecting key cases to support and thereby establishing very important case law which was used widely both by individuals and organisations".[60] The Equal Opportunities Commission made an application for judicial review, for the failure of UK to give part-time workers unfair dismissal rights in the case of R v Secretary of State of Employment, ex p Equal Opportunities Commission. [61]This is considered to be a landmark case and likewise the NHRC must be able to "target test cases by supporting individual applicants or by intervening in existing proceedings".[62]

  The Commission can assist courts to avoid breaching international human rights obligations. Public interest litigation is crucial in making human rights effective especially for the second-generation rights such as social and economic rights and third generation rights such as environmental rights, which are regarded as less suitable for judicial determination.

  At present NGOs can bring cases in judicial review proceedings. However this is reliant on their ability to use litigation, clause 7 of the Human Rights Act does not allow public bodies (or voluntary organisations) to bring cases in their own name. CHRI suggests that is not enough to rely on NGOs as a safe guard mechanism to ensure that state fulfils the legal obligations. It is essential that the UKHRC is able to assist a third party complainant and group actions to take legal action if the commission is to be, and seen to be, effective. The UKHRC's potential functions in this area will be expanded upon in answering question nine below.

42   Commonwealth Secretariat, National Human Rights Institutions-Best Practice, (London) 2001 p 4 Back

43   Chief Emeka Anyaoku at the seminar on Commonwealth National Human Rights Institutions: Promoting Good Practice, seminar report, 16-17 Oct 1997, London , p. 7 Back

44   National Human Rights Institutions, A Handbook on the Establishment and Strengthening of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Para 108, UN centre for Human Rights Professional Training Series No 4, June 1995 Back

45   S Spencer and I Bynoe, A Human Rights commission: The Options for Britain and Northern Ireland (London, IPPR 1998) p. 67 Back

46   Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p. 67-68 Back

47   Commonwealth Secretariat supra note 1, p. 39 Back

48\HUMAN+RIGHTS+EDUCATlON. Last visited 03/09/02 Back

49   R Bourne et al, School-based Understanding of Human Rights in 4 Commonwealth Countries: A Commonwealth Study, Department for International Development, 1998. The survey is actually carried out in four countries asking school children aged between 14-16, whether they knew about the rights in the UN convention on the Rights of the child. 68 per cent of children in India, 53 per cent in Zimbabwe, 43.5 per cent in Botswana and only 6 per cent in Northern Ireland had been told about their rights. As Northern Ireland is part of the UK one can assume this will likely be reflected by the rest of the nation Back

50   History, English, religious education, environmental and development aspects of geography, personal and social education (PSE) would appear to offer the most potential. R Bourne et al, School-based Understanding of Human Rights in 4 Commonwealth Countries: A Commonwealth Study, Department of International Development, 1997, p 22 Back

51   Dr Pityana addressing a British council conference in Belfast, May 1998, in Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 66 Back

52   Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 66 Back

53   National Human Rights Commission Annual Report 1994-95 in Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 66 Back

54   Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 66 Back

55   Beard, Jenny, The Ugandan Human Rights Commission, CHRI News, Autumn 1998, p 4 Back

56   Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 6 p 93 Back

57   Hossain, Kamal, Report on National Human Rights Commissions and the Realisation of Economic and Social Rights, International Seminar by CHRI and Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust and the International Law Association Committee, Bangladesh, March 1997, p 19 Back

58   Pityana, N supra note 11 Back

59   Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 65 Back

60   Committee Stage, HL, 24 November 1997, Hansard col 847. Baroness Lockwood is the first chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission Back

61   [1995] 1AC 1 Back

62   R. Singh, The Future of Human Rights in the United Kingdom, (Oxford, Hart Publishing 1997) p. 35 Back

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