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Human rights in the Commonwealth

by David Isaac

Published: 16 Apr 2018

The Commonwealth has taken centre stage this month. The Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast showcased its sporting talent and, this week, heads of government gather in London and Windsor to discuss the global challenges we face and how best to create a better future for Commonwealth citizens.

It is also the time when Commonwealth National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) come together to look at what has been achieved to date and what more should be done.

So, alongside the heads of government meeting, the biennial meeting of the Commonwealth Forum of NHRIs will also take place over the next two days. 

In the first half of this meeting we will see presentations on projects focusing on business and human rights, sport and human rights, and how to strengthen democratic processes to support free elections. 

The second half of the meeting is then handed to the next Chair of the forum.

I’m delighted to say that we (with funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) will take on the role of chairing the forum for the next two years. 

We have a strong international reputation and hope that we can use our experience to work with our Commonwealth partners to fulfil our joint objectives. We will also be in listening mode so that we can also share lessons learned and develop best practice to promote human rights across the Commonwealth. 

The Commonwealth Forum is one of several international networks of NHRIs, but it is a unique one.

Members come from all parts of the world, and even though we all operate in different contexts with different challenges, we all share common legal foundations.

Indeed it is the very diversity of forum members that provides the network with real potential. Our differences provide us with the opportunity to learn from each other’s unique experiences so that we can all become stronger NHRIs and create a more effective network. 

As a result of the excellent work of the last chair, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, I believe that the forum is well positioned to do all this and to move the human rights agenda across the Commonwealth to the next stage.

As a network of global organisations good communications is vital to success. We want to make it easy for members to talk to each other and to learn from each other.

With this in mind, during our period as chair we will be arranging a number of workshops where dialogue and learning on a whole range of human rights issues will take place. The expertise across Commonwealth National Human Rights Institutions is enormous and we must use this to enhance the knowledge and skills of all members. 

But, above all, we must develop our new strategic plan.

Working with all forum members, it will be our role as the chair of the organisation to develop and agree a new strategic plan and to ensure that the governance arrangements are as robust and effective as possible to enable the forum to deliver on its ambitions.

Speaking personally, I am pleased to see the early signs of support from members on LGBT issues and hope this translates into one of the priorities included in the strategic plan. There is still a long way to go to deliver human rights for this community across all Commonwealth countries.

Achieving the aspirations of the Commonwealth Forum of NHRIs is very much a collective endeavour. The forum is only as strong as its members, so over the next two days we’ll be talking about what the Forum would like to achieve in the next two years and how the Equality and Human Rights Commission will work with members to deliver the plan.

Taking on the chair of the Commonwealth Forum is an exciting project for us. We are very confident that we can continue to develop the excellent work of the forum and, most importantly, further the promotion of human rights across the Commonwealth.