21 DECEMBER 2009 SUVA (RRRT/SPC)
Regional parliamentarians meeting in Brisbane have called for a regional human rights mechanism to facilitate handling the increasing number of inter-jurisdictional human rights issues such as the effects of climate change and migrant workers.
The MPs from 11 countries around the Pacific are meeting to discuss human rights issues in the Pacific including violence against women, HIV, human rights and the law, human rights perspectives on climate change and human rights mechanisms.
This issue was raised previously in recommendations made by Pacific Island MPs at human rights consultations in Auckland in November 2007 and December 2008, as well as at a regional meeting of judges and magistrates in December 2007 in Brisbane.
The European, American, African and Arab regions have well-established regional human rights commissions with varying levels of authority to promote the concept of human rights and in some regions to adjudicate on human rights issues between countries and between citizens and countries.
In 2007 the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries agreed to set up an Asian regional human rights commission, a concept that had been under consideration for several years. This means that the Pacific will soon be the only region globally without one.
A regional human rights commission could facilitate rights specific to circumstances in the Pacific region while at the same time conforming to international human rights standards set out in UN human rights instruments.
The African Human Rights Charter significantly guarantees all 'peoples' the right to a 'general satisfactory environment favourable to their development'. The San Salvador Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to a healthy environment and requires member states to 'promote the protection, preservation and improvement' of the environment. A similar mechanism in the Pacific would facilitate common Pacific human rights issues.
A Pacific regional human rights commission would complement current judicial systems as well as the development of harmonised human rights law between Pacific countries. It would also assist in the set-up of national commissions and complement their work.
Cook Islands MP Nandi Glassie expressed that some countries lack the resources and capacity to effectively run national human rights institutions. He asked:
'Would a regional human rights mechanism be the way for these nations to go?'
Given the small size of most Pacific countries, there would be greater likelihood of independence from government with a regional commission than with a national commission. A regional human rights commission would not exclude the establishment of national human rights institutions. In the Americas, the regional human rights commission played a major role in the consequent establishment of national human rights institutions in countries party to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
A regional commission would also assist Pacific countries in reporting to various UN bodies on its human rights accountability before the treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review. It would promote and protect human rights standards in the region. It could also promote the rights of Pacific Islanders as a group.
The meeting of regional MPs is organised and hosted by the Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). RRRT provides human rights training, technical support, and policy and advocacy services tailored specifically for the Pacific region. RRRT is an SPC programme under the Social Resources Division....PNS (ENDS)
For any further information please contact Imrana Jalal or Gwen Phillip at the Diana Plaza Hotel, Brisbane on (07) 3391 2911.