You are here: UK parliamentarians host roundtable with UN human rights chief

19 October 2015

On a recent visit to the UK, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights met with British parliamentarians to discuss today’s most pressing human rights issues. The 12 October meeting was hosted jointly by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the United Nations, the APPG on Human Rights and the APPG on the Rule of Law.

The High Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, opened the discussion by stating that at the UN there is currently a high state of anxiety about the challenges the world faces, and the leadership required to tackle them. In particular, there is concern that whilst many states are, on the face of it, staunch proponents of human rights, there is a growing disconnect between this verbal commitment and the day-to-day reality.

The UK’s own fractured debate over human rights law, which the High Commissioner had described at an earlier UNA-UK event as “profoundly regrettable”, was also discussed. The Government’s stated intention to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights – as well as a possible withdrawal of the European Convention on Human Rights – was highlighted as a concern not only for what it may mean for rights protections in this country, but for the potential for other states to follow suit.

Switzerland’s debate over the balance between domestic and international law was raised as a similar example. The High Commissioner stressed that international human rights law is binding, and cannot be cherry-picked. As a guard against any backward steps on domestic commitment to international law, the High Commissioner welcomed the UK’s recent leadership in trying to strengthen the link between parliamentarians’ role as legislators and the protection of human rights.

The wide-ranging discussion which followed covered a range of issues of concern to both the UN and UK parliamentarians. In light of the current migrant and refugee crisis in Europe, the continuing relevance of the 1951 Refugee Convention was discussed, as was the way in which European states respond to intolerance and extremism. LGBTI rights were also raised, with some debate around the need to appoint a global envoy on the issue. In terms of country situations, attendees were updated on the UN’s work to address human rights challenges in DPRK, Burma and Iran amongst others.

Finally, Mr Hussein urged the parliamentarians present to maintain their active interest in human rights, as well as their support for the UN’s work in this field. Though human rights are described as the third pillar of the UN, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is under-resourced and over-stretched. Yet the High Commissioner asserted that he will continue to be a vocal advocate for victims everywhere.

In attendance at the meeting were:

  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Ann Clwyd MP
  • Lord Hannay
  • Hilary Benn MP
  • Crispin Blunt MP
  • Fiona Bruce MP
  • Patrick Grady MP
  • Dominic Grieve QC MP
  • Mark Pritchard MP
  • Andy Slaughter MP
  • Lord Cashman
  • Baroness Hamwee
  • Baroness Kinnock
  • Baroness Lister
  • Lord Maginnis
  • Baroness Prashar
  • Lord Purvis
  • Baroness Stern
  • Baroness Whitaker
  • Nicole Piché
  • Gianni Magazzeni
  • Rupert Colville
  • Murray Hunt
  • Hayley Richardson
  • Natalie Samarasinghe
  • Swee Leng Harris
  • Jeffrey Jowell
  • Brian Chang