The Secretariat encourages and assists member countries, particularly small states, with the process of ratifying the major human rights conventions. For example, Maldives was assisted in 2006 with ratifying three major human rights conventions.
The Human Rights Unit at the Secretariat has developed the ‘Commonwealth Best Practice Principles on National Human Rights Institutions’ which are being used worldwide in the process of the establishment of national human rights commissions. In 2006, the Secretariat advised Swaziland and Pakistan, among others, on international standards applicable to setting up such mechanisms.
The Secretariat continues to work with governments to strengthen existing human rights institutions to operate confidently, competently and independently. The Human Rights Unit also increases awareness of human rights by holding training programmes for police and prison officers.
We regularly liaise with the UN and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to ensure efficient and complementary programme activity.
What are human rights?
‘We believe in the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief, and in their inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which they live’ (Harare Commonwealth Declaration, 1991).
In the Harare Declaration, leaders pledged the Commonwealth and Commonwealth countries to work with renewed vigour on the association’s fundamental values, including fundamental human rights. Since then, every meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, most recently in Kampala, Uganda, in 2007, has reaffirmed the leaders’ commitment to human rights as a fundamental value of the Commonwealth. They reaffirmed that respect for and protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, is the foundation of peaceful, just and stable societies and that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.
Human rights are universal protections and freedoms that extend to all individuals and groups, simply by virtue of being human, against all actions and omissions that interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity. More simply, human rights are rights that all human beings are entitled to and which are intended to protect their basic freedoms and dignity from being violated.
Human rights are about the realisation of a vision of society in which all human live in dignity. The vision of a good society in which this is possible requires all people to have and enjoy a range of freedoms and rights, as well as protection from violations and abuse.
Some important characteristics of human rights are that they:
What are some examples of human rights?
What is development?
The United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development defines development as “a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which seeks the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom.” This means that development is an integrated, multi-faceted process which is people-centred, participatory and equitable. It does not focus solely on economic growth but on welfare, freedom and equality for all people.
Is development a human right?
Yes. One of the most fundamental human rights is the right to development, as enshrined in the Declaration on the Right to Development. This means that every human being has the right to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development.
What is the Commonwealth’s position on human rights?
‘We believe in the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief, and in their inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which they live’. (Harare Declaration, 1991). When Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Kampala in 2007, they reaffirmed that respect for and protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, is the foundation of peaceful, just and stable societies and that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and inter-related.
What is the Universal Periodic Review?
The Universal Periodic Review is a United Nations human rights review that started in 2008. It will examine the human rights records of all 192 UN member states which include all 54 members of the Commonwealth - once every four years. The ultimate aim of the review is to improve the realisation of human rights for people of all countries through the support and encouragement of their governments in the implementation of agreed recommendations on human rights.
What are the Secretariat’s goals in this area?
We focus on:
How do we measure progress?
Through feedback that we receive from our member countries and periodic evaluation of our work we are able to assess progress in the area of human rights.
If you would like to request assistance from the Secretariat what should you do?
Please contact the Human Rights Unit of the Commonwealth Secretariat on +44 207 747 6423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.