The functioning of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians is governed by its own "Rules and Practices" as well as by the "Procedure for the examination and treatment of complaints", which came into force on 1 January 1977, and by the subsequent decisions taken by the Governing Council and by the Committee itself.
Examination of individual cases
The IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians is entrusted with investigating alleged violations of human rights affecting individual (or groups of) members of national parliaments. The Committee can only investigate abuses of which it has been seized by a qualified source of communication (that is, the parliamentarian concerned, his/her family members or legal representatives, fellow parliamentarians from the same or any other country, human rights organizations, other sources that the Committee considers as reliable). The Committee therefore cannot examine a situation of its own accord nor does it assess or make general statements about the human rights situation in the country concerned.
Confidential versus public examination
The Committee meets and deliberates behind closed doors, which guarantees both the independence and discretion of its activities. However, in some situations the Committee may decide to bring a case to the attention of the IPU Governing Council in a public report, in particular when the dialogue with the authorities of the country concerned has been unsatisfactory or when the alleged abuses are of a very serious nature. Such reports describe in detail the situation of the parliamentarian and the steps which have been taken, and contain, in the form of a draft resolution for adoption by the Governing Council, recommendations for action.
A procedure compatible with other procedures
The fact that a complaint has been lodged before another international body responsible for investigating and settling complaints is no obstacle to the submission to the Committee of a similar communication on the same case, and vice versa. In 1978, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (the treaty body that monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) stated that the examination of a communication by the IPU Committee was not incompatible with its examination of a complaint concerning the same person.
An adversarial procedure
The Committee's procedure is based on the principle of cross-checking the information provided by the various parties. Therefore, in the same way that a summary of the allegations is transmitted to the authorities of the country concerned so that they can put forward their point of view, a summary of their observations is relayed back to the author of the communication. However, the Committee does not confine itself to setting up this channel of communication between the parties; it may also take the initiative of asking questions and requesting further information and documents.
After each examination of a case by the Committee and, where appropriate, by the IPU Governing Council, all parties are informed of the decision taken and are, where relevant, invited to follow up on the contents of the decision and to provide information on any new developments in the case. This approach is adopted at all the stages of the examination of the case, and may take different forms: not only may the Committee receive written information, it may also hold hearings and even propose to the Governing Council that on-site missions be undertaken.
The Committee regularly holds hearings in the course of each of its sessions that take place during the two annual statutory IPU Assemblies, thereby taking advantage of the presence of parliamentary delegations from the countries that are on its case load. This may sometimes entail separate hearings of several members of a delegation, representing divergent points of view or interests. The Committee may also invite the author of the communication to come before it. Though less frequent, hearings with the authorities and/or the communication author may also be held at the two Committee sessions which take place outside of the IPU Assemblies. Irrespective of when and where hearings are held, they are always held behind closed doors.
Missions and trial observations
The Committee or the IPU Governing Council may consider that, given the complexity of a case, the limited information on file and/or a stalemate due to a lack of official cooperation, direct contacts and an exchange on the ground may help to make progress towards the satisfactory settlement of the case. In such situations, they may recommend sending an on-site mission and seeking the consent of the authorities for the mission to be carried out. As a minimum condition, the authorities should be prepared to receive the delegation and allow it to meet with all the parties in complete independence; they must also give every assurance that contacts with the mission will not lead to any reprisals against the person(s) concerned. Moreover, when the case concerns one or more parliamentarians in detention, the authorities must agree to allow the delegation to meet with each of the detainees in the absence of any official witnesses. After the mission, the delegation drafts a report which is shared for comments with the authorities and the source of the case. Those mission reports that have been made public can be found in the section resolutions on human rights cases.
In several cases, the Committee and/or the Governing Council have mandated a legal expert to observe part of the trial proceedings against a parliamentarian whose situation is under examination by the IPU. In all such cases, the expert has drawn up a report which highlights the extent to which fair trial guarantees have been respected. After sharing the report with the authorities and the source, the Committee and the Governing Council decide whether or not to endorse the expert's conclusions and recommendations.
Follow-up, including parliamentary action
One of the most original and dynamic aspects of the procedure is that a case remains on the agenda of the Committee and, if it is examined under its public procedure, of the Governing Council, until a satisfactory settlement has been reached. Moreover, all member parliaments are invited to help bring about such a result, on the basis of the principle of parliamentary solidarity, where it concerns the public resolutions adopted by the Governing Council.
Depending on circumstances, parliamentary action may take the following forms:
- Notifying Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the concerns of the Union with regard to the situation of a particular parliamentarian, possibly with a call for representations to the authorities of the country in question;
- Directly approaching the ambassador of the country concerned in the capital;
- Requesting the intervention of the ambassador in the country concerned;
- Sending a parliamentary delegation to the country concerned, whenever this appears to be appropriate, or taking advantage of a parliamentary visit to raise the matter in question;
- Establishing contacts, during inter-parliamentary conferences, between the parliamentarians of various countries and those representing a country in which a case is under examination by the Governing Council;
- Making use of the media;
- Where appropriate, supplying direct material and legal support for the victim;
- Transmitting to the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians the information gathered on a particular case and the results of the action undertaken.
The Committee's experience has shown time and again that such forms of parliamentary action can be very efficient.