By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)
“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 men and women who have risked careers and even their lives to express their beliefs.”
This bold statement by the International Parliamentarian Union (IPU)’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, presages heated debates during the IPU 136th session, scheduled to take place in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 1-5 April.
In fact, “it is not rare to see that legal steps are taken to silence outspoken members of parliament,” says the Committee. There are a number of cases where individual parliamentarians, if not even the entire opposition, have been prevented from exercising their mandate,” the IPU Committee reports.
“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.”
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, the IPU informs.
“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.“
The IPU Human Rights Committee cites the types of prejudice suffered by Parliamentarians, basing on cases it has considered.
According to a 2009 study, 121 Parliamentarians suffered “undue exclusion from political life; 99 of “lack of due process”; 93 from “arbitrary arrest, detention”, and 70 from undue restriction of freedom of speech”, let alone 31 cases of “murder, en forced disappearance,” as well as cases of “torture, ill-treatment”, “kidnaping and abduction.”
The IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians also reports that 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.”
While freedom of expression is under threat in one way or another, the Committee informs, 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.“
“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.” Here, a complete list of decisions on human rights cases adopted by the Governing Council in recent years.
The IPU Human Rights 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 protection and promotion of human rights are among the main goals of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Article 1 of the Organization’s Statutes defines human rights as an essential factor leading to democracy and development.”
Parliament is the State institution representing the people and through which it participates in the management of public affairs. It therefore bears a special responsibility in promoting and ensuring respect for human rights.
Here, the IPU helps parliaments and their members to live up to this responsibility in two ways.
First, the it strengthens parliaments’ action, notably through their human rights committees, in areas such as legislation, oversight and adoption of budgets for the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms.
Second, by contributing to their concrete protection and redress when they are at risk, the IPU ensures that individual members of parliament enjoy their own human rights.
The coming IPU’s meeting in Dhaka will discuss, among others, the issue of Redressing inequalities: Delivering on dignity and well-being for all; the role of Parliament in preventing outside interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, and promoting enhanced international cooperation of the Sustainable development Goals, in particular on the financial inclusion of women as a diver of development.
The IPU is the international organization of Parliaments (Article 1 of the Statutes of the Inter-Parliamentary Union). It was established in 1889.
The Union is the focal point for worldwide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples and for the firm establishment of representative democracy.
To that end, it fosters contacts, co-ordination, and the exchange of experience among parliaments and parliamentarians of all countries, and considers questions of international interest and concern and expresses its views on such issues in order to bring about action by parliaments and parliamentarians.
It also contributes to the defence and promotion of human rights – an essential factor of parliamentary democracy and development; contributes to better knowledge of the working of representative institutions and to the strengthening and development of their means of action. The IPU works in close co-operation with the United Nations.