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  5. Eighth Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region

 
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FOCUS March 2000 Volume 19

Eighth Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region

Beijing, China- March 1- 4, 2000

Background [1]

The Asia-Pacific region is the only United Nations defined region without a specific regional human rights treaty and without some form of region-wide mechanisms directed towards the protection and promotion of human rights. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has organized a number of workshops to promote regional arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region (Manila in 1990, Jakarta in 1993, Seoul in 1994, Kathmandu in 1996, Amman in 1997, Tehran in 1998 and New Delhi in 1999). Through these workshops a consensus has been reached among governments of the region on the principles and a step-by-step, building blocks approach involving extensive consultations among governments of the region, concerning the possible establishment of regional arrangements.

In 1998 in Tehran, governments of the region adopted the so-called Tehran Framework for Technical Co-operation in the Asia-Pacific region (Tehran Framework), which sets out a program for regional arrangements aiming to contribute to the development and strengthening of national capacities for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region. Adopted by consensus, the Tehran Framework identifies States' commitment to four regional priorities: national plans of action for the promotion and protection of human rights and the strengthening of national capacities; human rights education; national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights; and strategies for the realization of the right to development and economic, social and cultural rights.

The Seventh Asia-Pacific Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, held in New Delhi in February 1999, called upon OHCHR to develop and implement the proposals made in the four areas identified under the Tehran Framework. In July 1999, a regional workshop on National Human Rights Action Plans was held in Bangkok, Thailand. In December 1999, a sub-regional workshop on Human Rights Education in Northeast Asia was organized in Seoul, Republic of Korea. A Workshop on National Plans of Action for Human Rights Education was held in Tokyo, Japan, in January 2000 and in February 2000 a Workshop on Strategies for the Realization of the Right to Development and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights took place in Sana'a, Yemen. Furthermore, two meetings on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights were held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Manila, the Philippines.

The Eighth Asia-Pacific Workshop was held in Beijing from March 1-3, 2000 in keeping with Commission of Human Rights Resolution 1999/69.

Workshop Strategies

Having been organized annually since 1995, this regional workshop has become a regular (annual) event, providing a unique forum where all governments of the region exchange views and information on human rights issues of common interest and concern. The workshops are intended to continue to be held in an atmosphere conducive to constructive discussion, consensus-building and confidence building.

The Beijing workshop focused on specific and practical issues. In particular, the workshop

  1. Reviewed the follow-up action taken within the Tehran Framework as agreed upon in Tehran, assessing in particular: results of the inter-sessional workshop in Bangkok on national human rights action plans; results of the sub-regional workshop in Seoul on human rights education; results of the Asia-Pacific Forum meetings on national institutions in Colombo and Manila; results of the inter-sessional workshop in Tokyo on national action plans for human rights education; results of the inter-sessional workshop on development and economic, social and cultural rights in Sana'a;
  2. Identified the next steps to be taken by governments of the region in order to further the process of regional cooperation for the protection and promotion of human rights and action at the regional, sub-regional and national levels, including through national institutions and representatives of civil society; and
  3. Discussed issues relating to the preparation for the World Conference Against Racism.

Workshop output

After short introductory remarks by invited resource persons, a number of representatives of governments presented either the official stand of their governments or reports on what their governments are doing on each of the four areas of concern. Representatives of national institutions and NGOs likewise presented their positions on the issues as well as reports of their activities.

The participants adopted the workshop document entitled "Conclusions of the Eighth Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific." The document reaffirmed the results of the series of intersessional and sub-regional workshops held since the seventh regional workshop in New Delhi and restated the need for national action plan for human rights, establishment of national human rights institutions, emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development, and the development of human rights education programs. The participants also discussed the regional preparations for the forthcoming World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Tolerance to be held in 2001 in South Africa.

The workshop participants:

  1. Affirmed the importance of the implementation of technical cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region pursuant to the Tehran Framework, with the support of the international community, including through the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, as one of the key components of the promotion of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region;
  2. Recognized the close relationship between and mutually supporting nature of the activities undertaken within the Tehran Framework, and otherwise, in the region for the promotion and protection of human rights;
  3. Emphasized the importance of undertaking activities under the Tehran Framework at national and sub-regional levels with the assistance of the concerned governments, national institutions and civil society;
  4. Acknowledged the importance of governments undertaking regional, sub-regional and national activities for the implementation of the technical cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region in accordance with the Tehran Framework in partnership with parliaments, national institutions, relevant experts and civil society organizations;
  5. Declared that within each of the areas of the Tehran Framework close attention should also be paid to the promotion and protection of the rights of women, children and vulnerable groups;
  6. Welcomed the proposal made by the OHCHR to continue the implementation of the Tehran Framework;
  7. Welcomed the intention of OHCHR to invite UN partner agencies to carry out some of the activities discussed during the workshop;
  8. Proposed that the OHCHR undertake an evaluation of the implementation of the Tehran Framework so far and report to the next Annual Asia-Pacific Workshop;
  9. Agreed to invite parliaments, national institutions and civil society groups to participate, as appropriate, in the development and implementation of the Tehran Framework;
  10. Agreed to disseminate among appropriate government agencies and institutions and other partners at national level, as well as regional and sub-regional level, the results of this annual Workshop and to initiate joint efforts towards the implementation of these conclusions;
  11. Called upon the OHCHR to report on progress achieved in the implementation of technical cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region in accordance with the Tehran Framework to the next annual Asia-Pacific Workshop. The workshop took note of the proposal made by the government of Thailand to host the next annual workshop;
  12. Endorsed the next steps and activities as included in the attached annex.

The annex to the conclusions lists recommended activities to be undertaken at the regional, sub-regional and national levels. The implementation of the activities is dependent on the availability of funds under the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights (VFTC). Some activities are, however, already funded. Each activity also has to be hosted by a State. The recommended activities are grouped into the four main areas:

a. National human rights plan of action and national capacity building

Regional level

  1. Development and dissemination of a handbook on the development of national action plan for human rights to governments, national institutions and NGOs in the region;
  2. UN training activities on making reports for human rights treaty bodies especially Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Sub-regional level

Workshops

  1. Possibly in cooperation with ASEAN, for governments, national institutions and civil society on national human rights planning;
  2. For members of parliaments with special emphasis on combating racism and realization of women and children's human rights.

National level

  1. Technical assistance in the development of national action plans of Thailand, Mongolia, Nepal and Jordan, and other interested States;
  2. Technical cooperation and advisory services to develop national capacity especially regarding the administration of justice, legislative reform, promotion of ratification of human rights instruments, and human rights skills development in civil society.

b. Human rights education

Regional level

  1. Survey of human rights education materials, organizations and programs in the region including collection of sample activities undertaken in the first half of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004), and on funding agencies and resources for human rights education in the region;
  2. Research on popular and non-formal human rights education methodologies used in the region, paying particular attention to those which are directed to vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalized groups.

Sub-regional level

  1. Workshops for governments, national institutions and civil society to develop a) sub-region specific human rights training programs for those involved in the administration of justice; b) sub-region specific strategies to direct human rights education to vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalized groups; c) sub-region specific strategies for promotion of human rights education within the school system.
  2. Technical training workshop on human rights for the judiciary with special emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights, combating racism and on the realization of women's and children's rights.

c. National human rights institutions

Regional level

  1. Support for the annual meetings of the Asia-Pacific Forum of national institutions;
  2. Start of the first phase of a training program on protection approaches and appropriate follow-up activities.

Sub-regional level

  1. Support for intersessional workshop on the role of national institutions in the protection and promotion of women's human rights to be held in Fiji and another workshop on the role of the media and human rights education;
  2. Co-organizing of the second national institutions training course on economic, social and cultural rights and related follow-up activities.

National level

  1. Assistance, in cooperation with main partners in the States in the region including the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Institutions, for the establishment and strengthening of national institutions;
  2. Support for promotion and protection of the rights of women, children and vulnerable groups by national institutions.

d. Realization of the right to development and economic, social and cultural rights

Regional level

  1. Workshop for governments, national institutions and civil society to explore the impact of globalization on the full enjoyment of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Right to Development especially in relation to vulnerable segments of society.

Sub-regional level

  1. Workshop for governments, national institutions and civil society on ratification of international treaties including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its implications in terms of reporting obligations, legislation and practice, as well as of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families;
  2. Workshop involving national planning authorities, re-levant ministries, national institutions and representatives of civil society to explore means to integrate human rights in national development plans.
  3. Encouragement to States, UN agencies and programs, and other partners to develop and implement further activities at the sub-regional level to promote effective realization of the right to development and economic, social and cultural rights, and offer technical cooperation and advisory services in this regard.

National level

  1. Technical cooperation and advisory services to assist in the realization of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development through national development plans or national human rights plans, in cooperation, where possible, with development organizations.

e. Preparation for the World Conference Against Racism

  1. Regional and sub-regional preparatory activities including expert seminars and a regional preparatory meeting.

Future direction

The Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region has truly taken a step-by-step approach in discussing a possible regional arrangement for human rights. There is still a need to build confidence among governments in the region to be able to work together toward this end. Human rights remains a politically sensitive issue that prevents a number of governments from expressing full support for any regional arrangements. The main area requiring much more work is at the level of governments. National institutions have already been working together at the regional level toward a common goal of strengthening their respective institutions and assisting other countries in establishing theirs. Non-go-vernmental organizations and other civil society institutions have already been organizing at the regional level as evidenced by the proliferation of networks and coalitions.

Close scrutiny of on-going, concrete activities of go-vernments, national institutions, NGOs and other institutions which relate to human rights (or to the four main areas under the Tehran Framework) is a major issue that requires serious and greater attention in the next annual and intersessional workshops. Next steps are better planned by building on actual experiences.

Government statements in the workshop are focusing at times on principles and, mostly, on generalities. Concrete reports on ground-level activities in the countries are not given. Neither is there an attempt, on the part of the workshop organizers, to narrow down issues (under each of the four areas) for discussion to be able to take up practical suggestions in a constructive manner and thereby make use of the time much more wisely and fruitfully.

The planned activities listed in the annex to the main conclusions document of the workshop should have been given at the very beginning of the workshop to allow better discussion on the benefit of such ideas to the governments, national institutions and NGOs in the region. Such discussion is a basic, first step in preparing for the eventual holding of the activities.

The manner by which the workshop is conducted is another important aspect. Formalities, based on UN protocol and tradition, prevent a more candid yet positive discussion. While many governments raised the need to avoid confrontation and instead promote dialogue, the formalities of the workshop prevented the dialogue from effectively taking place. The informal meeting among APEC leaders in their annual Leaders' Summit is a good model to follow. The "no-tie" affair stresses greater personal as well as official interaction among leaders of the economies in the APEC region. If confidence-building among governments is important, it should be practiced during the workshop.

Also, representatives of governments should not only be from the ministry of foreign affairs but from other relevant ministries as well.

Lastly, the workshop deserves wider publicity among the general populace in each of the countries represented. Media coverage before, during and after the workshop is needed to sustain public interest on this important activity. Such publicity will hopefully generate a momentum for the people to dialogue with their own government, national institution (if any), and NGOs on human rights issues. The publicity during the workshop in Chinese newspapers is recognized. It can be improved by covering the discussions during the workshop to help keep the public informed. This has been done by Thai newspapers in several international gatherings held in Bangkok. In other words, the workshop should be given the public prominence that human rights meetings properly deserve.

Parallel or prior meetings by NGOs (national and regional) and even by national institutions should be encouraged to help enrich the workshop discussions. In the APEC process, business community leaders do meet before the actual APEC meeting to give them the chance to organize their positions on issues at hand. The very same idea equally applies to the workshop.

Indeed, to be able to facilitate the so-called enhancement of national capacities for human rights, all stakeholders in the countries involved should take part in the opportunities to promote human rights offered by regional-level activities. This workshop offers an invaluable opportunity.


Note

The first two parts of this article are taken from the background note of the workshop prepared by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


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