The Human Rights Council is the principal forum for the discussion of human rights issues in the United Nations (UN) system. It has replaced the Human Rights Commission which had been highly successful in the codification of human rights norms and standards, but less so in monitoring their effective implementation. This failure was due in part to the Commission’s design as a body representing Member State governments and the lack of transparent criteria for membership selection. The reforms which led to the replacement of the Commission by the Human Rights Council in 2006 were intended to address these shortcomings but turned out to be compromise solutions which have produced only limited change in the outlook and in the working methods of the Council in comparison to its predecessor. As ideological and political divisions within the international community and the Council have intensified, this has increased the risk of partisanship undermining the credibility of the latter’s work, thus calling into question the Council’s role as an effective instrument for human rights promotion and protection.
The Brexit saga which culminated in the sweeping victory of the Conservative Party in the parliamentary elections of December 2019 and the British withdrawal from the European Union the following months caused a major upheaval in the relationship between Britain’s main constitutional actors, especially between the government and the judiciary. In the course of the long-winded and acrimonious Brexit debate, the courts were repeatedly asked to intervene at critical junctures of the withdrawal process, first to secure a central role for Parliament in discussing and approving the terms of withdrawal and then to protect Parliament against attempts by the government to curtail and render ineffective this role through the questionable use of its prerogative powers.
This development reached its climax with the UK Supreme Court’s judgment of 24 September 2019 on the unlawfulness of the prorogation of Parliament decided by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister in the run-up to Brexit, an unprecedented interference by the courts with the exercise of prerogative powers in the name of a functioning parliamentary democracy. While the reasoning of the Court does not appear entirely convincing, there can be no doubt that the ruling was crucial in upholding the central role of Parliament in the Brexit negotiations and, by implication, of the authority of the courts which had defined that role at the beginning of the negotiations. That the Supreme Court felt it necessary to take the unprecedented step of confronting the executive over the use of its prerogative powers in a highly polarized political debate also demonstrates the extent to which the political consensus which in former times had underpinned the functioning of Britain’s flexible constitutional democracy has broken down as a result of the Brexit debate, and the divisions it has engendered within Britain’s political class and in the public at large. This gives rise to the concern that the reforms announced by the Conservative government following its sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections of December 2019 will destroy any progress which had been made in the UK prior to the Brexit referendum towards a modern practice of parliamentary majority government based on incomplete but genuine checks and balances.
Part of a special issue devoted to the role of parliaments in contemporary Arab politics, this article gives an oversight of the evolution of the constitutional rules governing the status and powers of Arab parliamentary assemblies following the “Arab spring” and during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Parliaments have traditionally played a marginal role in Arab constitutional theory and practice. Although the strengthening of the role and powers of parliaments and a rebalancing of the executive-legislative relations in favour of the latter featured prominently in the reform agendas emerging from the protest movements of the “Arab spring,” these movements proved unable to produce lasting change. The reforms have either been rolled back by oppressive governments or given way to a political pactice of renewed presidential dominance which diverges considerably from the initial aspirations of the reformers. The highly unfavourable conditions existing in most Arab countries – with internally divided democratic reform movements, entrenched military, and political elites determined to resist genuine democratic change with all means available and powerful external actors supporting the domestic status quo – are likely to ensure that parliaments will remain confined to a largely ornamental role in Arab politics in the foreseeable future.