Parliaments have long been overlooked as national human rights actors. Yet given their powers to oversee the executive, and functions that can ensure laws, policy, and practice are in compliance with the state’s international human rights commitments, they have significant potential in supporting the international human rights system and improving the implementation of international standards at the domestic level.
Building on previous UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions encouraging human rights engagement by parliaments, in June 2018 the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a set of draft principles aimed at strengthening the interaction of parliaments with the national and international systems and placing them as an active part of the national human rights system through the establishment of dedicated parliamentary human rights committees.
In the context of these ongoing efforts, this article considers the potential for the new (soft) standards for parliamentary human rights mechanisms, critically assessing the UN initiative. It discusses the challenges inherent in formal parliamentary engagement on human rights through committees, particularly at the international level, argues for necessary safeguards, and makes proposals for further research and institutional initiatives to solidify parliaments’ role as effective national human rights actors.