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FOCUS September 1996 Volume 5

Asia-Pacific Regional Forum of National Human Rights Commissions

A regional initiative for national human rights institutions called the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum of National Human Rights Commissions was established during the first regional workshop of national human rights institutions held in Darwin, Australia early July.

The workshop led to an agreement to strengthen and institutionalize cooperation among the national human rights institutions in the region and extend assistance to countries setting up their own institutions. Thus, in addition to establishing the informal Asia-Pacific regional forum, the participants decided to:

  1. exchange information;
  2. undertake training and staff development for members of the national human rights institutions;
  3. develop joint positions on issues of common concern;
  4. do joint projects;
  5. share expertise;
  6. organize periodical regional meetings;
  7. hold specialist seminars on common themes and needs;
  8. respond promptly and effectively to requests from other national human rights institutions to investigate violations of the human rights of their nationals present in a country that has a national human rights institution.

A significant conclusion of the workshop states "[T]hat to ensure effectiveness and credibility the status and responsibilities of national institutions should be consistent with the Principles relating to the status of national institutions adopted by the General Assembly that provide that national institutions should be independent, pluralistic and established wherever possible by the Constitution or by legislation and in other ways to conform to the Principles." The concern for independent and effective national human rights institutions remains to be a major agendum as shown by this conclusion.

The workshop recommends the recognition by the United Nations of national human rights institutions' unique status and character as independent institutions which can participate in UN activities in their own right.

In connection with the NGO participation, the workshop concludes that the "...promotion and protection of human rights is the responsibility of all elements of society and all those engaged in the defence of human rights should work in concert to secure their advancement..." and that the "...national institutions work in close cooperation with non-government organisations and wherever possible with governments to ensure that human rights principles are fully implemented in effective and material ways". These ideas may hopefully extend to regional meetings of national human rights institutions where NGOs are participants not merely observers so that they can contribute more meaningfully to the discussions.

Representatives of national human rights institutions in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and India attended the workshop. The meeting was likewise attended by government representatives from Thailand, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. These countries are in the process of setting up national human rights institutions. The Centre for Human Rights of the United Nations was also represented. While NGO representatives from Thailand and Australia attended as observers.

A statement of the workshop, called Larrakia Declaration, was issued that contains the conclusions, recommendations and decisions of the participants.

The next meeting will be held in India. Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission serves as secretariat while the New Zealand Human Rights Commission is the forum coordinator.

For further information, contact the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission - Level 8 Piccadilly Tower 133 Castlereagh Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia, telephone (612) 9284-9600, fax (612) 9284-9611.


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