23 October 2012, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji
The increasing awareness of human rights that is developing throughout Pacific Island countries has been recently fueled by the introduction of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations.
'We are finding that the more work we do, the more there is a ground swell of people with knowledge about human rights and how this affects their lives at the grass roots level,' said Lionel Aingimea of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).
Mr Aingimea is Senior Trainer with the SPC Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), based in Suva, Fiji.
He explained that the UPR was created in 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly, whereby the human rights record of each of the 192 member countries is reviewed every four years. It is designed to ensure that all countries are treated equally when their human rights records are assessed
It also provides the opportunity for every country to outline what action has been taken to improve their human rights situations, and the future actions they will take to fulfill human rights obligations or promises, and to improve their human rights situations.
Mr Aingimea said that RRRT works with policy makers, policy implementers and with people at the community level in Pacific Island member countries of SPC.
'Human rights are not limited to one area, they cover everything. The right to adequate standards of living and health are covered by Article 25 of the Human Rights Convention. From having clean drinking water, to having a job, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, food on the table; these are human rights, not handouts,' explained Mr Aingimea.
He said that these rights are reflected in Pacific Island Governments in the Pacific Plan, and as the 2011 Annual Report of the Pacific Plan states, "The defence and promotion of human rights is a cross-cutting issue that impacts on all the Pacific Plan priorities."
Such cross-cutting issues that are of great importance to Pacific Island countries include the impacts of climate change and food security issues.
'These are huge areas, often viewed through scientific spectacles,' said Mr Aingimea. 'But the greater view is of how climate change impacts people and their human rights. It is a recognised human rights issue. The UPR is an opportunity to bring global attention to the impacts of climate change, as, Tuvalu did in 2008.'
Mr Aingimea said that before the introduction of the UPR, Pacific Island countries were not known as ratifiers of the United Nations Human Rights Convention, 'but the first cycle of the UPR has seen, for example, Nauru ratifying a number of Conventions, such as Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)and Palau signing nearly all of the core human right conventions.
This demonstrates a growing commitment to human rights –and one which the Pacific is now proud to share with the world.
'The Pacific states have progressed well in the area of human rights, especially with using the UN special procedures, such as the recent visits of Mr. Calin Georgescu, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste who visited the Marshall Islands, and the recent visit of Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water to Tuvalu,' said Mr Aingimea.
He pointed out that the 2011 Pacific Plan Progress report states, '...the important new commitment by Pacific countries is a major achievement and represents a significant advance in the development of the region's commitment and adherence to international human rights standards.'