Thursday 22 October 2009, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Suva, Fiji
Pacific countries are required to report to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations and other UN member states on their human rights records under the Universal Period Review (UPR), a new human rights reporting mechanism, a regional gathering of lawyers heard recently in Auckland.
'The UPR process is an important mandatory accountability mechanism for all UN member states. It's best to be candid about your human rights record,' said Imrana Jalal, Human Rights Adviser at the Regional Rights Resource Team of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (RRRT/SPC).
The lawyers were attending a week-long workshop on advancing legislative change on violence against women, UPR, HIV and human rights and national/regional human rights mechanisms in relation to human rights and international law organised by RRRT/SPC. They were told that the recently introduced UPR process helped guide countries, through open dialogue and recommendations, in implementing changes to ensure the human rights of their citizens were fully protected. Countries from the Pacific that have reported include Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
'I found the experience to be an open one; it is important to be open. By highlighting the challenges in addressing human rights, the process paves the way for assistance in addressing and implementing those rights,' Roline Lesines said.
Ms Lesines was part of the Vanuatu delegation, which reported in 2008. She shared the challenges of presenting the Vanuatu report. Moreover she emphasised that preparation and training prior to attendance were important. She said that out of the 48 recommendations made by the Human Rights Council, 43 were accepted by the Vanuatu Government.
RRRT/SPC Human Rights Adviser Imrana Jalal said the UPR mechanism, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006, also provided an opportunity for Pacific Island countries to bring Pacific challenges, achievements and needs in the area of human rights to the attention of the international community.
'This reporting process is important in that it encourages countries to share their achievements as well as challenges in the area of human rights. Climate change in the Pacific is now firmly on the human rights agenda as a result of Tuvalu reporting. The links between human rights are very significant,' Jalal said
Tonga was the first Pacific country to submit its UPR in 2008; Tuvalu presented in December 2008 and Vanuatu in 2009. Fiji Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia are scheduled to report in 2010 and Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Solomon Islands in 2011.
The opening speaker for the workshop, which brought together 29 lawyers from 10 Pacific Island countries, was Justice Helen Winkelmann of the Chief High Court of New Zealand. She encouraged the lawyers, as leaders in the community, to extend the scope of their private practice and their work within government, emphasising that lawyers' advice, views and action influence and shaped the views and actions of others.
For more information, please contact Lionel Aingimea, RRRT/SPC Senior Trainer, at Copthorne Hotel Auckland at (649) 377 0349, email [email protected] or mobile 022641917