80. Memorandum from The Commonwealth Human
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 Associationsthe 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'S HUMAN RIGHTS
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 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.
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
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 LankaThe 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
"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." 
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
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
"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
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
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".
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. 
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. 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
"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".
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
The 1997 Commonwealth survey illustrated a deficiency
of human rights knowledge by school children in Northern Ireland.
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.
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. 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
The Canadian Federal Commission has an internet
information service. 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. 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. 
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. 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. 
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
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.
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, 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. 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".
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. 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".
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
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
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
S Spencer and I Bynoe, A Human Rights commission: The Options
for Britain and Northern Ireland (London, IPPR 1998) p. 67 Back
Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p. 67-68 Back
Commonwealth Secretariat supra note 1, p. 39 Back
Last visited 03/09/02 Back
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
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
Dr Pityana addressing a British council conference in Belfast,
May 1998, in Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 66 Back
Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 66 Back
National Human Rights Commission Annual Report 1994-95 in Spencer,
S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 66 Back
Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 66 Back
Beard, Jenny, The Ugandan Human Rights Commission, CHRI News,
Autumn 1998, p 4 Back
Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 6 p 93 Back
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
Pityana, N supra note 11 Back
Spencer, S and Bynoe, I supra note 4 p 65 Back
Committee Stage, HL, 24 November 1997, Hansard col 847. Baroness
Lockwood is the first chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission Back
 1AC 1 Back
R. Singh, The Future of Human Rights in the United Kingdom, (Oxford,
Hart Publishing 1997) p. 35 Back