In March 2016, the Nitijela of the Republic of the Marshall Islands approved total funding of USD 40,000 to support WUTMI’s work on combating violence against women. WUTMI – Women United Together Marshall Islands – has been the leading voice in breaking the silence on violence against women in the country.
The announcement came after the Nitijela’s induction seminar held in February in Majuro. The Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) country focal officer for Marshall Islands, Tarjo Arelong, shares her reflections of the induction seminar and the key results of the event below.
The seminar took place from 22 to 26 February and was the first of its kind since the inception of the country’s constitutional government. It brought in two international partners: the United Nations Development Programme and the Pacific Community to facilitate the seminar, assisted by the Nitijela Legislative Counsel.
The Hon. Alan Griffin, Labour Federal Member in the Australian Parliament, attended the seminar and shared his experiences from the bench and his point of view as a judge. As someone who has been active in human rights issues, his input was very valuable. The MPs were very grateful for his insights and advice. He touched everyone’s heart.
The first three days focused on the constitution; Nitijela rules and procedures; roles of MPs, the speaker and the clerk; law-making processes; parliament oversight, accountability, transparency and integrity; national developments; and thematic issues.
The last two days were facilitated by the Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team and focused on human rights and good governance, with Justice Stephen Pallaras QC, South Australia's former Director of Public Prosecutions and more recently Justice of the High Court in Solomon Islands, drawing on his experiences from the bench.
This induction seminar was intense and very comprehensive. It captured all the relevant issues and subject matter that a national leader should be aware of and understand. Many of the Nitijela members are new and the human rights sessions strengthened their understanding of national human rights commitments, issues, and international human rights systems.
Human rights issues of domestic violence and gender equality were discussed at length and specific questions relating to temporary special measures for women in parliament were explained and clarified.
The discussions and presentations helped the MPs to be more informed, as evidenced by their pledging to make special appropriations in their budget to give financial support to WUTMI. Several weeks later, that pledge became a reality and a USD 40,000 special appropriation was approved to support WUTMI’s work on addressing violence against women.
Key outcomes of the discussions were framed as recommendations and these will be presented to the President of Marshall Islands for further deliberation and action. The recommendations are:
Recommendation 1: That the Government of RMI consider and take the necessary steps to develop and create a national human rights action plan for RMI.
Recommendation 2: That the Government of RMI consider and take the necessary steps to: (i) develop a UPR Implementation Plan to support and guide the implementation of accepted recommendations under the UPR Process; and (ii) draft and submit its Country’s Initial and Periodic Reports under the CEDAW, CRC and CRPD Reporting Processes.
Recommendation 3: That the Government of RMI consider and take the necessary steps to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure.
Recommendation 4: That the Government of RMI consider and take the necessary steps to: (i) formulate a costed Implementation Plan for the DVPP Act; (ii) develop a Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for the DVPP Act; (iii) promote awareness amongst and sensitisation of national leaders (elected / appointed / traditional) on the human rights and development context of violence against women; (iv) strengthen preventive measures when formulating legislative, policy and other associated measures dealing with violence against women; and (v) support like-minded civil society organisations, including WUTMI, in consolidating national efforts to address violence against women.
Recommendation 5: That the Government of RMI, through a scoping study, explore the concept and rationale for National Human Rights Mechanisms, including but not limited to the approaches taken in the Pacific, with a view to establish a National Human Rights Institution for RMI.
Participants’ awareness of human rights was raised during the induction seminar. Such awareness raising should be an ongoing activity in the country, through consultations, or by providing relevant reading materials, or in open forums.