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  5. Opening Statement by Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

 
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FOCUS March 2000 Volume 19

Opening Statement by Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Excellencies, distinguished representatives, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure and an honor for me to address you on the first day of the Eighth Asia-Pacific Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. I would like to warmly thank the Government of China for its cooperation in the organization of this event.

In 1998, in Tehran, a consensus was reached on the principles and a step-by-step, building blocks approach, towards the establishment of regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights. Adopted by consensus, the Tehran Framework for Technical Cooperation identifies States' commitment to four regional priorities, namely: 1) National plans of action for the promotion and protection of human rights and the strengthening of national capacities; 2) human rights education; 3) national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights; and 4) strategies for the realization of the right to development and economic, social and cultural rights.

Since the Tehran Framework there have been a number of important developments:

In 1999, in New Delhi, States adopted an Annex to the conclusions of the Seventh Asia-Pacific workshop identifying proposals for the next steps to be taken to facilitate the process of regional cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights and possible regional arrangements. Much progress have been made since the approval of this document. Inter-sessional activities have taken place on each of the four areas identified in Tehran and agreement has been reached on fundamental principles.

In July 1999, at the inter-sessional workshop on National Human Rights Action Plans held in Bangkok, Thailand, States recognized the desirability of developing national human rights action plans in a participatory and pluralistic manner, and affirmed that such plans contribute to significantly advance the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level.

At the Seoul sub-regional workshop on human rights education in Northeast Asian schools and at the Tokyo Workshop on National Plans of Action for Human Rights Education, participants recognized the role of human rights education in enhancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and in contributing to the prevention of human rights abuses and to the promotion of human rights and sustainable human development.

At the two meetings on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, held in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and Manila, the Philippines, States reaffirmed that national institutions, established through an inclusive process of consultation with all sectors of society, play an important role in addressing human rights violations and in establishing a culture of respect for human rights.

In February 2000, at the Sana'a Workshop on Strategies for the Realization of the Right to Development and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, States committed to developing and strengthening national capacities for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development and reaffirmed that effective public participation is an essential component of successful development and of the implementation of the right to development.

This forum has a particular significance and a special responsibility. It is particularly significant because it symbolically closes the phase initiated with the adoption of the Tehran Framework and implemented through the organization of inter-sessional activities under each one of the four priority areas of cooperation identified under that framework; and it has a special responsibility because, taking stock of what has been achieved throughout this phase, as well as of the obstacles encountered, helps to identify next steps in order to further the process of regional cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Through a long process of consultations, in the form of annual and inter-sessional workshops, agreement has been reached on principles. Time has come now to move ahead and further the process of cooperation towards the further realization and implementation of those principles. The objectives of this workshop are to review progress made in each one of the four areas identified in Tehran; identify next steps to be taken by government of the region in order to facilitate the process of regional cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights and action at the regional, sub-regional and national level, including through national institutions and representatives of civil society and; to discuss issues relating to the regional preparatory meeting for the world conference on racism. It is my hope that, following your deliberations, the workshop will be able to consider and agree on the launching of a new regional framework for cooperation in the Asian and Pacific region identifying next steps for regional, sub-regional and national action.

Previous workshops have recognized the crucial role of civil society in developing effective national human rights and human rights education action plans, in establishing national human rights institutions and in guaranteeing a successful and sustainable development. The importance of ensuring a pluralistic and participatory approach in all activities aimed at strengthening national capacities for the promotion and protection of human rights has also been strongly emphasized. It is really encouraging to have representatives of national institutions and non-governmental organizations participating together in this workshop - I offer to you my warm appreciation for your attendance. It is my sincere hope that national institutions and the civil society will be increasingly involved in future activities under the framework of regional cooperation and eventually become full participating parties with government.

I should like to emphasize at the outset that my Office is committed to strengthen its capacity to support national government and institutions in their efforts to promote and protect human rights and that I will continue to pay particular attention to ensuring that this region benefits from all the activities under the programme of technical cooperation and advisory services in the field of human rights. My Office will spare no effort to assist in the process of translating your conclusions here into measures that will further promote and protect human rights in the Asian and Pacific region.


Excellencies, Distinguished Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen

I was glad to learn that one of the declared objectives of this workshop is to discuss issues relating to the regional preparatory meeting for the World Conference Against Racism. Racism, xenophobia, racial discrimination and intolerance are all malign influences which are at the root of many of the world's conflicts. Despite some impressive victories in the post-War period, racism remains a persistent and stubborn problem. No country is free from at least some people who are intolerant of difference, whether ethnic or religious, and whose intolerance finds violent expression. We are witness to many conflicts where ethnic or religious differences are invoked. There is persistent, and in some cases, escalating discrimination against minorities, indigenous peoples and migrants. Harsh immigration and asylum policies are enforced. And new, insidious forms of racial discrimination have appeared such as the dissemination of hate messages through the Internet.

The World Conference Against Racism will take place in South Africa in 2001.The first preparatory conference will be held in Geneva next May. There will be numerous national and international events associated with the Conference - indeed, some are already underway or have taken place. I hope that there will be regional conferences throughout the world as part of the build up to the main Conference. For the Conference to be successful it will need inputs from and the wholehearted support of a variety of actors. I hope that in all of your future activities a special attention will be given to issues relating to racism and racial discrimination and that all these inputs will be fed into a regional preparatory meeting.

The year 2000 also represent a benchmark for the realization of the rights of women, it is in fact the year of the fifth anniversary of the adoption, here in this great city, of the Beijing Platform and Programme of Action. Unfortunately 5 years after the World Conference, women's rights are still widely violated: everywhere women still suffer domestic violence each day; increasingly, women are targeted in armed conflicts; the majority of the world's refugees are women; female illiteracy is invariably higher than male illiteracy; women and girl children are becoming commodities in cross-border prostitution rackets and the pornography industry. In many countries, women are not treated as men's equals, whether in property rights, rights of inheritance, laws related to marriage and divorce, or the rights to acquire nationality, manage property or seek employment. This is an important opportunity to renew States' commitment to the promotion and protection of the rights of women. I encourage the Governments and Institutions present here to take up this issue with renewed vigor and commitment in all your future activities, at the regional, sub-regional and national level.


Excellencies, Distinguished Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen

In concluding, let me reiterate that I attach great importance to this workshop and its ability to achieve tangible results for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Asia and Pacific region. I would in particular emphasize the following:

  1. The strong commitment of my Office to support the implementation of your deliberations with regard to future activities at the regional, sub-regional and national level to further the process of regional cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights.
  2. My encouragement to all participants to consider organizing and/or hosting regional, sub-regional and national initiatives with a greater involvement of national institutions and civil society.
  3. My invitation to all of you to identify here in Beijing - if possible - a candidate for hosting the next Asia/Pacific workshop which will take place in the year 2001 and to continue having consultations by the open-ended working group in Geneva so as to follow-up on the concrete proposals emerging from this meeting.

The goal that has brought us here today is to increase and coordinate our efforts to help improve substantively the quality of life of the peoples of this region. I believe that this workshop can help us to advance in the achievement of this objective.


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