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FOCUS March 1999 Volume 15

Best Practices for National Institutions for Human Rights : Common Action for NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions

Concluding Statement, 12 February 1999, Jakarta, Indonesia

Concluding Statement, 12 February 1999, Jakarta, Indonesia

The Symposium entitled 'Best Practices for National Institutions for Human Rights: Common Action for Human Rights: Common Action for NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions,' jointly organized by [Indonesia Legal Aid and Human Rights Association] PBHI and [Japan Civil Liberties Union] JCLU, was held from 10 to 12 February, 1999 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Participants included representatives from the national human rights institutions of Australia, India and Indonesia, as well as non-governmental organizations from Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand. The Symposium also had the honor of having Ms. Senator Mizuho Fukushima and Member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yukio Edano, of Japan, as participants. The Symposium expressed its thanks to the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights for its participation.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, sent a message of support to the Symposium, in which she emphasized the substantive contribution non-governmental organizations are able to make to the work of national institutions. The Symposium appreciated the valuable work of the United Nations in promoting the establishment and strengthening of national institutions in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Symposium endorsed the concept of human rights institutions as an additional valuable mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Symposium welcomed the establishment of national human rights institutions in six countries of the region. It appreciated the work that had been done toward the establishment of national institutions in a number of other countries in the region and urged the governments concerned to bring these processes to a successful conclusion as soon as possible. The Symposium called on governments of other countries in the region to initiate action toward the establishment of human rights institutions. In this regard, the Symposium urged the Government of Japan to begin discussions with non-governmental organizations and other interested parties and to take part in relevant international meetings, with a view to developing a strategy for the establishment of a human rights institution.

The Symposium also emphasized the importance of non-governmental organizations in the promotion and protection of human rights. The Symposium called on the governments of the region to freely permit the operations of such organizations in accordance with international human rights standards and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. With a view to promoting an effective partnership, the Symposium further called on governments of the region to consult and co-operate with non-governmental organizations through regular and meaningful mechanisms, including meetings.

The Symposium emphasized the separate but complementary roles of national institutions and non-governmental organizations. If the activities and findings of national institutions are to have significance, it flows from their statutory base and substantial resources. If non-governmental organizations are to have impact, it flows from their diversity, expertise and close relationship with local communities. The symposium strongly considered that the two sectors should co-operate closely for the promotion and protection of human rights.

While addressing here the importance of national institutions and non-governmental organizations, the Symposium also emphasized the primary role of the courts in upholding the rule of law and in protecting human rights.

The Symposium noted that the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions has consistently stressed the vital role of civil society in the promotion and protection of human rights. It welcomed the Forum's decision, at its Third Annual Meeting held in Jakarta on 7 to 9 September 1998, to hold a workshop in 1999 on the theme of National Institutions and Non-Governmental Organizations: Working in Partnership. The Symposium urged the Forum to cooperate closely with the non-governmental organizations of the region in the preparations for the workshop.

Independence and Pluralism

The Symposium strongly asserted that the principles relating to the status of national institutions adopted in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 48/134 (the 'Paris Principles') should be applied as the minimum standards for ensuring the independence and effective functioning of national human rights institutions.

  • The Symposium affirmed that existing and new institutions should have a legislative or constitutional base. In this regard, the Symposium welcomed the fact that legislation is to be presented in Indonesia to give the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission a legislative base and urged the speedy adoption of the legislation.

  • The Symposium was strongly of the view that the independence of national institutions depended on adequate human and financial resources, which should be provided on a continuing and stable basis. It deplored any attempts by governments to weaken national institutions by reducing their budgetary allocations. It urged that funding should not be subject to decisions by the executive branch of government, and should rather be on the basis of a separate budget allocation.

  • The Symposium considered it vital that members of national institutions should be selected according to clear criteria that are focused on personal standing, integrity and human rights expertise. Appointments should be made on the basis of a credible and independent selection process and should include security of tenure.

  • The Symposium was concerned that in some cases in the region, appointments did not give sufficient regard to the consideration of pluralism of institution membership, particularly with regard to gender balance, regional representation and the various sectors of society.

Investigation powers

The Symposium recognizes that national institutions should:

  • have effective complaints procedures based on the principles of accessibility, transparency, accountability and efficiency;

  • have complaints procedure which are just and fair, with the status of procedures and reasons for decisions to be given to all complainants, and that are accessible to all whose human rights are violated. Language and geographical barriers should be rigorously addressed;

  • follow up on the implementation of their recommendations and decisions;

  • have the power to intervene in relevant cases before the court;

  • have the power to initiate investigations into human rights violations;

  • have the power to compel the presence of witnesses and the production of evidence.

The Symposium recognized the lack of regional offices of the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia and its adverse impact on accessibility to remedies. The Symposium was also concerned that national institutions were often unable to influence governments to comply with recommendations. It called on governments to respond effectively to national institution recommendations.

The Symposium called on governments to respond effectively to systemic problems, as well as to individual complaints, in the interest of the effective protection of human rights. Although the individual investigation procedure is crucial in giving remedies to victims of human rights violations, it alone cannot rectify problems that are systemic in nature. Therefore it is important to have a broad approach to the investigation powers of national institutions. The Symposium recognized that national institutions should have the capacity to hold public inquiries and initiate complaints in response to systemic human rights violations. Such methods should follow similar principles of transparency and accessibility as are followed with respect to individual complaints. The Symposium considered that national institutions throughout the region should utilize such methods to address systemic problems such as those relating to land and labor relations. Such inquiries should represent a comprehensive examination of the issues addressed and result in substantial reports to government with recommendations for action.

Relations with Government, Administration and Legislatures

National institutions should work independently from governments and particularly should be free from political bias. However, governments should cooperate more effectively with national institutions and non-governmental organizations in the effort to promote and protect human rights. It called on governments to establish effective structures for co-operation, including regular formal and informal meetings in which full opportunities are provided for issues to be raised. Important in this process is the obligation of any government body to provide full information on human rights issues and problems and to respond effectively to proposals and concerns that are raised.

The Symposium considered that national institutions should have the power to make such recommendations as they deem appropriate to both legislative and administrative bodies in order to promote the implementation of international standards of human rights at the national level.

Education and Training

The Symposium emphasized that the empowerment of people vulnerable to human rights violations is essential. Thus education and empowerment must ensure access to effective human rights protection. The Symposium also emphasized that education of the general public about human rights is vital to preventing human rights violations. The Symposium considered that international human rights instruments be used as the basis for human rights education and recognized that human rights education should consist not only of transmitting knowledge but of creating human rights values within each individual that will eventually lead to actions in accordance with international human rights standards.

The Symposium called on governments in the region that have not already done so to develop and implement national plans of action in the field of human rights education. The development and implementation of such plans should be carried out in consultation with national institutions and non-governmental organizations. Plans of action should aim at both reaching children through the formal education system and empowerment of community members more broadly. They should be backed by adequate resources and high level political leadership.

The Symposium called on governments in the region to create a climate of media freedom by ceasing attacks on journalists, repealing laws which restrict freedom of expression and enacting freedom of information laws.

The Symposium recognized that the media is a useful and effective means of educating the general public in human rights. In particular, the Symposium recognized the importance of the media in publicizing the achievements of the national institutions and also of disseminating the findings of human rights violations made by the national institutions.

National institutions should ensure effective training for their members and staff. Governments, in consultation with national institutions and non-governmental organizations, should also institute and maintain human rights training programs for relevant sectors of public administration, especially the police and armed forces and civil servants.

Collaboration between NGOs and National Institutions

The Symposium recognized the importance of building strong links and ties between national institutions and non-governmental organizations by structured regular meetings. The Symposium recognized that the collaboration between these two sectors would strengthen the functions of national institutions as well as making the non-governmental organizations more effective in promoting and protecting human rights.

International Assistance

The Symposium considered that international assistance could make an important contribution to the institutional strengthening of both national institutions and non-governmental organizations. It welcomed assistance of this kind that had been provided so far and urged governments and other donors to provide increased technical cooperation and financial assistance so that national institutions and non-governmental organizations can play an increasingly effective role in the promotion and protection of human rights.


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