Members of parliament must be free to enjoy their human rights. If not, how can they defend and promote the rights of those who elected them? Yet, around the world vocal parliamentarians find themselves under threat. The 40,000-strong community of parliamentarians includes many brave men and women who have risked careers and even their lives to express their beliefs.
In order to protect parliamentarians against abuses and thus defend the parliament institution, the IPU established in 1976 a Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, which has since examined cases in over 100 countries and in many instances helped to provide those at risk with protection or redress. This has taken a variety of forms, such as the release of a detained parliamentarian, reinstatement to a previously relinquished parliamentary seat, the payment of compensation for abuses suffered and the investigation of such abuses and effective legal action against their perpetrators. Sometimes the abuse arises from the application of flawed legislation or parliamentary rules. A satisfactory solution may then require a change in these legal provisions so as to bring them into line with applicable human rights standards.
It is not rare to see that legal steps are taken to silence outspoken members of parliament. There are a number of cases where individual parliamentarians, if not even the entire opposition, have been prevented from exercising their mandate. Among the methods used are the undue revocation or suspension of the parliamentary mandate, politically motivated bankruptcy proceedings and revocation of the parliamentarian's citizenship.
|TYPES OF PREJUDICE SUFFERED BY PARLIAMENTARIANS, 2009 *|
* Based on the cases considered by the IPU Human Rights Committee
Often, parliamentarians have fallen victim to unfounded legal proceedings. Some of these proceedings are locked into paralysis. In cases in which proceedings have run their course, parliamentarians have frequently been prosecuted without any respect for fundamental fair trial standards. Irrespective of whether or not the case comes to trial, due process is at issue in each of these different scenarios.
|IPU HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE'S CASE-LOAD PER REGION, 2006|
While freedom of expression is under threat in one way or another in all cases before the Committee, only a minority of the cases relate to undue action taken as a direct response to criticism voiced by parliamentarians. In such situations defamation laws provide for a very narrow interpretation of freedom of expression and are often used to deal with unwanted criticism.
Composition, procedure and decisions of the Committee
The Committee is composed of 10 members of parliament, elected by the Governing Council in an individual capacity on the basis of their competence, commitment to human rights and availability. The Committee elects its own President and Vice-President.
The Committee meets in camera three times a year to examine and adopt decisions on the cases which have been referred to it. To hear cases of violations, the Committee has set up its own procedure that includes both confidential and public components. This procedure is intended to protect or provide redress to individuals or groups of parliamentarians, and not to assess the human rights situation in the country concerned. Occasionally, the Committee may also undertake missions and trial observations. The Committee does everything it can to nurture a dialogue with the authorities of the countries concerned in its pursuit of a satisfactory settlement that meets human rights standards, including organizing hearings and undertaking on-site missions. Through contacts, communications and visits, IPU member parliaments lend support to this action.
If the violation is of a particularly serious nature, for instance in the case of the assassination or torture of a parliamentarian and/or if the authorities are not cooperating in a procedure, the Committee may render its reports and recommendations public by submitting them to the IPU Governing Council. A complete list of decisions on human rights cases adopted by the Governing Council in recent years is available on this website.