Report on Activities by the Human Rights Unit

AuthorCommonwealth Secretariat

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Mandate of the Human Rights Unit (HRU)
  1. The Human Rights Unit's activities support the attainment of the Commonwealth's strategic goal of strengthening democracy and respect for human rights in Commonwealth countries.

  2. The 1971 Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles confirms members' belief in "the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief, and in their inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic processes in framing the society in which they live". The 1991 Harare Declaration establishes the scope of the mandate of the Secretariat's activities to promote both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. It specifically enjoins members "to extend the benefits of development within a framework of respect for human rights".

  3. In addition to the general thrust of the Latimer House Guidelines and Millbrook Programme of Action, the HRU's mandate derives further recent support from the Aso Rock Declaration (Abuja CHOGM 2003, in particular Article 7), the Coolum Communique (Coolum CHOGM 2002, incorporating the High Level Group Report), and various occasional ministerial-level communiqués, lately the St Vincent & The Grenadines Communique (November 2002 Articles 4-7) and the London meeting of Law Ministers of Small Commonwealth Jurisdictions (Oct. 2004).

  4. The HRU's core function under its mandate is to promote awareness of and respect for human rights. HRU was originally set up in 1985 following a decision made at the Melbourne CHOGM in 1981. On establishment it was expressly stated that the mandate of the HRU was to promote human rights within the Commonwealth, and not to be involved in any investigative or enforcement role.

  5. The HRU was initially within the Political Affairs Division (PAD), after which it moved to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Division (LCAD). Upon the recommendation of an "Evaluation Study of the Commonwealth Secretariat's Role in the Promotion of Human Rights 1997 - 2000," the Secretary-General decided to set up the HRU as a free-standing unit reporting directly to a Deputy Secretary-General. This was in order to give more prominence to human rights within the Secretariat's work. The HRU has been short on staff for much of 2005. Appointment of a replacement Head of the Unit is ongoing.

  1. The mandate upon which the HRU acts is presently as follows:

* to integrate human rights-based approaches to project and other work within all Divisions of the Secretariat;

* to develop assistance and other programmes that support, entrench and illustrate the Commonwealth's commitment to the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights, including programmes that emphasise the indivisibility of civil, political, economic and social rights;

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* to assist in securing as wide as possible ratification and domestic implementation by member countries of the major international instruments setting out universal human rights standards;

* to develop, publish and distribute for use in member countries educational and training materials in human rights and on specific thematic issues;

* to collaborate and co-operate with other international, regional and Commonwealth government and non-government actors whose work relates to the field of human rights, including the UN system;

* to provide the Secretary-General with advice on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and other human rights issues from time to time.

Strategic Framework
  1. The HRU's programme activities support attainment of the Secretariat's strategic goal of strengthening democracy and respect for human rights within the Commonwealth. In order to achieve this, the HRU focuses on the following thematic areas:

* determining and distributing 'best practice' guidelines and standard setting in a common law context of existing international human rights standards. This includes ratification and implementation of international human rights conventions;

* strengthening the capacity of national and regional human rights institutions to fulfil their mandates; facilitating interaction between civil society, media and professions, national human rights institutions, government, and the public;

* increasing knowledge and awareness of, and respect for, human rights throughout the Commonwealth, especially among decision-makers, law enforcement officials, women and young people; and

* mainstreaming human rights across the Secretariat's various programmes.

Activities A: Determining Commonwealth Best Practice on Human Rights Issues
  1. Ratification of human rights instruments - Promoting awareness of, encouraging and assisting technically in the ratification and domestication of international human rights...

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