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World of Parliaments

Respect for human rights requires the support and vigilance of all parliaments

Each year on 10 December, International Human Rights Day is an opportunity to remember that human rights are about respect for the basic dignity of each human being. They are a moral imperative, a legal requirement and they entail duties.

It is crucial for members of parliament to be able to speak out freely in order to share their ideas and views. If not, how can they - as representatives of the people - defend their basic rights?

Protecting parliamentarians in this endeavour is at the heart of the IPU’s work in the field of human rights. In 1976, the world organization of parliaments established the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, a unique body represented by legislators, men and women from different regions of the world and different political persuasions. The Committee’s task is a daunting one: raising human rights matters is very delicate and requires the Committee to employ various tools at its disposal, ranging from quiet diplomacy to speaking out publicly and forcefully, to put an end to abuses against parliamentarians. There is often much at stake for legislators at risk and the IPU is often the only space where they can express their views and seek protection and redress.

The IPU Committee gauges its success in terms of the concrete difference it makes to the life of several parliamentarians who fall victim to abuse. It gives hope and comfort to those legislators who are at risk and to the people they represent. This unique body needs the support of all parliaments, which are at the core of democracy.

As IPU Secretary General Anders B. Johnsson underlined in his own contribution to this issue, “Parliament itself is dependent on respect for human rights. Without freedom of speech and expression, parliamentary work quickly becomes a mockery. Every parliament has an interest in having functional mechanisms to protect its members from abuse. An attack on one of its members is in fact an attack on the institution itself”.


Legislators at risk in 20 countries

During the 121st IPU Assembly in Geneva, the President of the Committee of the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, Senator Sharon Carstairs (Canada), presented her report to the Governing Council, highlighting public cases concerning 214 legislators in 20 countries. The Council adopted the resolutions concerning cases of parliamentarians in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Eritrea, Iraq, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mongolia, Myanmar, Palestine/Israel, Philippines, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

The Committee’s session was attended by its current President, Senator Sharon Carstairs (Canada), its Vice-President, Senator Rosario Green (Mexico), its titular members: Senator Zahia Benarous (Algeria), Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel (Philippines), and Senator Philippe Mahoux (Belgium).

« There should be no conflict between human rights and national interests »

Canadian Senator Sharon Carstairs, President of the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of MPsThe essence of a nation should be to allow its citizens to live in dignity and to be afforded the opportunity to maximize their potential, not only for their benefit but for the benefit of the nation. Therefore, there should be no conflict between human rights and national interests. They should and ought to be one and the same. When they are, the nation flourishes. As individuals, we must remember that when one of us gains a human right, our human rights are thereby further protected. Human rights should be considered the essence of our humanity.

« I was treated inhumanly during my violent arrest »

Senator Eliane Naïka from Madagascar After presenting her report to the IPU Governing Council, Senator Sharon Carstairs invited Senator Eliane Naïka of Madagascar to share her personal experiences since the coup d’état which took place last March in her country.

“ …Thanks to the incessant and effective intervention of the IPU, five parliamentarians have been released from prison. Since the coup d’état that took place on 17 March 2009 in Madagascar, the two houses of parliament have been suspended. Since 23 April, an arrest warrant for 18 members of parliament has been issued. Six have been tortured and subsequently imprisoned. I myself, a politician, was treated inhumanly during my violent arrest by armed elements of the regime’s Special Intervention Force (FIS) on 12 September, when my human dignity was disregarded. I was tortured and beaten during my arrest. I was brought before a gathering of military officers, who humiliated me. Later, I was taken to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and informed of three charges against me. I was placed under a committal order. I am currently out on bail. We are still very concerned about the member of parliament who is the Quaestor of the National Assembly, Mr. Raharinaivo Andrianantoandro, who has been detained on political grounds for over two months.

Fellow parliamentarians, we are very worried about the widespread violation of human rights that affect parliamentarians in particular, notably in the form of regular threats of arrest, travel bans and bans on taking political stances. In short, between the coup d’état that took place on 17 March and now, Madagascar has been experiencing its darkest and most dramatic hours. On behalf of the members of parliament of Madagascar, I am requesting the IPU Members to send a parliamentary mission to Madagascar to meet with the parliamentarians in Madagascar and get first-hand knowledge of their situation”.

The right not to be a missing person

At the 121st IPU Assembly in Geneva, IPU President, Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, ICRC Vice-President, Ms. Christine Beerli, and Swiss MP, Ms. Brigitta Gadient, unveiled a new guide entitled Missing Persons - A Handbook for Parliamentarians. This tool highlights what lawmakers can do to prevent people from disappearing in armed conflicts, help clarify the fate of missing persons and provide enhanced support to their families, which are interwoven issues. International humanitarian law (IHL) requires authorities to do all they can to inform families about relatives who have disappeared, yet across the world, countless people remain without any news of their missing relatives, sometimes for decades. This is just one of many IHL rules that States and non-State actors must take more seriously, underlined the ICRC and the IPU.