Here are some of the questions about the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians and its working procedure that the IPU Secretariat in Geneva is often asked. Should you have other questions of this nature, please do not hesitate to contact us via e-mail or using the on-line feedback mechanism available on this site.
Who can benefit under the procedure?
Members of national parliaments (federal parliamentarians in the case of a country with a federal structure), irrespective of whether they have been elected, nominated or appointed. The parliamentarian may be a substitute if it can be established that the person concerned has in fact replaced the titular member in the parliament. In principle, only alleged abuses which occurred or started while the parliamentarian was exercising his or her mandate can be examined. If the mandate has been interrupted by an unconstitutional measure, which in itself constitutes a major violation of the rights of the parliamentarian, it is essential, for the communication to be considered admissible, that the alleged acts should have occurred or commenced during the term of the mandate determined by the Constitution or the law.
In which cases can the Committee take action?
Whenever parliamentarians have been subjected to an arbitrary measure which violates their human rights. Any violation of a parliamentarian's human rights and any violation of the rights which are specific to the exercise of the parliamentary function may be brought to the attention of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, on the understanding that the Committee will first check what domestic remedies are available to the alleged victim, and whether or not they have been utilized.
The Committee is not authorized to take a matter up on its own initiative or at the initiative of one of its members. As an independent body called upon to deal with alleged violations, it cannot be both judge and a party to the action.
How should a communication be lodged, and to whom should it be addressed?
Any communication must be made in writing and addressed to the Secretary General of the IPU, Mr. Anders B. Johnsson, at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax: +4122 9194160. It is vital for the communication to be signed and to contain the name and address of its author, who should ensure that the allegations relate to the individual situation of parliamentarians who must be duly named. The Committee is not empowered to deal with communications denouncing a general situation or drawn up in vague or general terms. The communication should further be as precise and detailed as possible, and should be accompanied by the greatest possible amount of supporting evidence. The speed and, in particular, effectiveness, with which allegations are treated depends to a large extent on observance of these guidelines.
Who can submit a communication?
- The parliamentarian directly concerned;
- Any person authorized to act on behalf of such a parliamentarian;
- Any parliamentarian (from the same country or from another country, whether or not a member of the Union) wishing to assist a colleague whose human rights he or she considers to have been violated;
- Intergovernmental, inter-parliamentary and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which are competent in the field of human rights (NGOs must have consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council - ECOSOC);
- Any other source that the Committee may decide to accept. In several instances, the Committee has conferred authority to lodge complaints on close relatives of the alleged victim and on reliable national and/or international human rights organizations without the consultative status mentioned above.
What commitment is assumed by the author of a communication?
Persons addressing a communication to the Committee act under their own moral responsibility. To ensure the effectiveness of the procedure, it is essential that the author of a communication respond to any requests from the Committee for further information, and keep it informed of relevant developments in the situation of the alleged victim. Authors of communications who merely sound the alarm but then fail to respond to the Committee's communications run the risk that sooner or later the file will be closed as a consequence of their lack of interest.
All authors of communications should be aware that the latter are submitted in full to all the members of the Committee, with explicit mention of the identity of the author. Nevertheless, an exception is made to this rule whenever the communication concerns a parliamentarian from a Committee member's country (the member of the Committee concerned is not permitted to participate in the examination of such cases). Moreover, authors of communications may request that their identities should remain confidential in contacts with the authorities of the countries they are accusing and in any public report which may be issued concerning the case.
How and within what time limits are communications investigated?
When it receives a communication, the Committee's Secretariat first endeavours to gather all the relevant information, in particular the legal and other material which may be lacking and which is necessary for the Committee's examination. Consultations then often take place immediately between the IPU Secretary General and the Committee's Chairperson as to the desirability of requesting the author of the communication to supply further information, or regarding the need to commence a prompt investigative procedure involving the authorities of the country concerned. They may also decide to take no particular action, since only those communications which prima facie meet the criteria of admissibility and offer sufficient guarantees that they are well founded can give rise to a preliminary investigation involving the authorities of the country concerned.
The Committee will be all the more anxious to commence the procedure rapidly in cases where the parliamentarian is allegedly exposed to such risks as imminent execution, torture or a serious aggravation of health.
The mere fact of commencing investigation of a file may help to protect the alleged victim, but this step does not imply acceptance of the allegations or any condemnation of the authorities of the country concerned. When the precise and detailed summary of the allegations is transmitted to the authorities of the country, they are invited to make comments and supply any information that they consider may enlighten the Committee. However, they are informed that "this approach does not prejudice in any way such action as may be taken on the case by the competent bodies of the Union".
Since IPU Members are national parliaments, the Committee first writes to the national parliament of the country concerned (whether or not it is represented in the IPU). However, if the parliament has been dissolved by unconstitutional means, requests for comments are transmitted to the authorities of the country in question through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, nothing in the Committee's procedure precludes the possibility of direct contacts with other authorities, such as the Ministry of Justice or Defence.