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FOCUS March 2004 Volume 35

The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (the Forum) held its 8th Annual Meeting on 16-18 February 2004 in Kathmandu. The meeting (consisting of closed meeting among member-institutions, and the open meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations, governments, and international organizations) discussed several issues such as the application of the Paris Principles, anti-terrorism and human rights, the rights of the disabled people, death penalty, child pornography on the internet, and trafficking.

The Forum noted the successful implementation of the Advisory Council of Jurists's (ACJ) recommendations on death penalty, child pornography on the internet and trafficking. The Forum also discussed new international human instruments such the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment (CAT), and the discussions at the United Nations of the new international convention on the rights of people with disabilities. The Forum recommended that governments sign and ratify both the CAT and its Optional Protocol. The NGO representatives also expressed the same recommendation.1

On death penalty, the NGO representatives pointed out that
While some of the countries like New Zealand, Australia and Fiji have worked towards fulfilling the ACJ 's recommendations, other countries like Nepal and India have done little to nothing, and have continually ignored the work of their respective National Human Rights Commissions. The situation in the Philippines is particularly disturbing, where the death penalty has been re-imposed, and in Sri Lanka, where concerns have been expressed over a similar re-introduction of the death penalty. Almost all of the above countries have yet to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.2

On the situation of people with disability, the NGO representatives stressed that "rights of people with disabilities in the Asia Pacific are not being effectively promoted or protected by most governments in the region. National human rights institutions in the Asia Pacific, too, have much room for improvement in this area."3

The Forum expressed grave concern "about the violations of human rights in Nepal and appreciate(d) the efforts of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal to promote the signing of the Human Rights Accord between the conflicting parties with a view to promoting peace."4

The Forum discussed the need to
strengthen the independence and institutional capacity of national (human rights) institutions to enable them to carry out their mandates more effectively. In particular, national institutions should be provided with a wide and unrestricted mandate to conduct investigations of human rights violations. Governments should also give serious consideration to the determinations and recommendations of national human rights institutions and ensure their effective implementation.5
During the closed meeting among member- institutions, they6
[R]eaffirmed that the structure and responsibilities of national institutions should be consistent with the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (Resolution 48/134) commonly referred to as the 'Paris Principles.' On this basis it reaffirrmed the full membership of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and admitted the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens Rights as associate members of the Forum. This increased the Forum's overall membership to 14 institutions. The Forum will assist the new associate members, where possible, to become fully compliant with the Paris Principles.

The governments of the Maldives, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste are reported to have decided to establish their respective national human rights institutions in full compliance with the Paris Principles. The Forum is willing to extend assistance in this process.

The NGO representatives recommended to the Forum to lobby governments to give their respective national human rights institutions quasi-judicial power.7

The Forum reaffirmed the importance of undertaking joint practical collaborative activities with non-gov-ernmental organizations for the protection and promotion of human rights and welcomed their continued participation in its annual meetings.

The NGO representatives, however, lamented the problems being faced by human rights defenders (who mainly belong to NGOs). An NGO report states that [I]n the majority of countries profiled, even those with national human rights institutions, individuals and organisations promoting respect for human rights are systematically subjected by State agencies to a range of oppressive measures, from intimidation to prolonged detention.8

Aside from the representatives of 14 member-institutions, there were members of the ACJ and the representatives, as observers, from the ILO, UNDP and UNESCO, the governments of Australia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom and the United States of America, the human rights institutions of Iran, Jordan and the Maldives, the regional Network of National Human Rights Institutions of the Americas, and thirty eight international, regional and national NGOs attending the meeting.

The 14 members of APF are the National Human Rights Commissions of Afghanistan, Australia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Palestine, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The members of ACJ held a separate meeting on 16-17 February 2004. The representatives of NGOs also held a separate meeting on 15 February 2004.

For further information, please contact: Forum Secretariat, Level 8, Piccadilly To w e r, 133 Castlereagh Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia; ph (612) 9284 9845; fax (612) 9284 9825; e-mail: apf@asiapacificforum.net; www.asiapacificforum.net

Endnotes

1. Asia Pacific Human Rights Network, The Prevention of Torture (February 2004).

2. Asia Pacific Human Rights Network, Towards Abolition of the Death Penalty (February 2004).

3. Asia Pacific Human Rights Network, The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (February 2004).

4. Conclusions of the 8th Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (16-18 February, Kathmandu).

5. Conclusions, ibid.

6. Conclusions, ibid.

7. Asia Pacific Human Rights Network, Establishing a Regional Human Rights Mechanism for the Asia-Pacific Region (February 2004).

8. Asia Pacific Human Rights Network, Human Rights Defenders - Background Paper (February 2004).


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