Joint Regional Workshop on Enhancing Parliaments’ Role in Defending and Promoting Human Rights in Southern Africa

The role of Parliaments in promoting and protecting human rights is a thematic priority for the International IDEA within its INTER PARES I Parliaments in Partnership programme, funded by the European Union. In order to strengthen networks on parliamentary development and inter-parliamentary cooperation in the human rights field, INTER PARES and the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) organised a Joint Regional Workshop on Enhancing Parliaments’ Role in Defending and Promoting Human Rights in Southern Africa on 8-9 November 2023 in Lilongwe, Malawi.

It was a hybrid event that gathered members of the SADC PF Standing Committee on Democratisation, Governance and Human Rights as well as Members of the EU Member States Parliaments and renowned experts in the field.

The speakers highlighted the critical role of Parliaments in the protection and promotion of human rights during their interventions and discussed key topics relevant to Parliaments’ engagement with human rights work. All the speakers presented different perspectives, interesting examples, and good practices from their respective countries, and internationally.

Taking well-informed decisions & adopting evidence-based policies
Mr Sheuneni Kurasha, SADC PF Programme Manager, Democracy Governance & Human Rights and Dr Landilani Banda, Legal Practitioner & Drafter of the SADC PF Principles & Guidelines highlighted SADC PF’s role in promoting human rights in the Southern African region while Dr Kirsten Roberts Lyer underlined trends and opportunities for parliamentary engagement in human rights in Europe and around the world.

The first panel comprised of Hon. Utaara Mootu, SADC PF DGHR Member, Namibia, Hon. Cláudia Santos, Vice-President of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Rights, Freedoms and Guarantees, Parliament of Portugal and Hon. Jerónima Agostinho SADC PF DGHR Member, Mozambique discussed the importance of establishing and strengthening Parliamentary Human Rights Committees and their role in raising awareness and promoting human rights within parliaments. The session was moderated by Jonathan Murphy, Head of INTER PARES Programme.

The speakers also emphasised the need to allocate sufficient resources, including capacity building on human rights within the relevant committees to exercise their duties more effectively.

Sensitising Parliamentarians on their role in safeguarding human rights
The second panel discussion highlighted the importance of sensitising Parliamentarians on their role in safeguarding human rights when preparing national legislation, when deciding on the national budget and when ratifying international/regional conventions. The panel was moderated by Ms Maureen Shonge, Regional Policy Specialist – Women’s Political Participation, UN Women Eastern and Southern Africa Region (ESARO). Speakers included: Mr. Adam Bodnar, Senator and Former Polish Ombudsman for Citizens Rights; and Hon. Darren Bergman, SADC PF DGHR Member, South Africa.

The discussions focused on the need to ensure that any piece of legislation is compliant with national and international human rights standards.

The role of parliamentary opposition in the work on human rights was underlined. Involvement of national human rights institutions, as critical tools in the hands of Parliament, was also stressed; along with the need to engage civil society and provide them with a space for meaningful participation.

The session continued with the discussion on the importance of parliamentary oversight to safeguard human rights. Moderated by Mr Gram Matenga, Programme Manager, International IDEA, the speakers included Hon. Leonard Mwalwanda, SADC PF DGHR Member, Malawi; Hon. Erik Ottoson, Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on the Constitution, Parliament of Sweden; and JUDr. Eduard Csudai, PhD, Head of Secretariat, Committee on Human Rights and National Minorities, National Council of the Slovak Republic.

Interesting examples were presented on the mandate and functions of parliamentary Ombudsman. The role of administration and committee staff in supporting MPs in their daily work on human rights was also discussed.

Two parallel group sessions concluded the workshop on Day 2. The role of regional parliamentary bodies and regional governance institutions in fostering and advancing human rights and Parliamentary Inclusion for better access to parliamentary venues for disabled persons, as well as improved representation of women and minorities in Parliaments, were discussed.

The workshop ended with a compelling closing address and call for action by Hon. Boemo Sekgoma, Secretary General of the SADC PF.

In addition to enriching and engaging sessions, two crucial documents were introduced during the workshop i.e., the SADC PF Principles and Guidelines for Parliaments in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the INTERPARES Toolkit on Effective Human Rights Engagement for Parliamentary Bodies. Both documents set out key principles, frameworks and tools for parliamentary action in the human rights area.

A key takeaways document was also prepared post the workshop which can be accessed here.