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FOCUS December 2004 Volume 38

7th International Conference for National Human Rights Institutions

Makoto Kondo

The 7th International Conference for National Human Rights Institutions (ICNI) was held on 14-17 September 2004 in Seoul. The main topic of the conference was "Upholding Human Rights during Conflict and while Countering Terrorism." Discussions essentially focused on the role of national human rights institutions in such circumstances. There were 5 working groups focusing on "Conflict and Countering Terrorism: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights," "Conflict and Countering Terrorism: Civil and Political Rights and the Rule of Law," "The Role of National Institutions in Conflict Situations," "Migration in the Context of Conflict and Terrorism" and "Women's Rights in the Context of Conflict."

The Seoul Declaration

The discussions at the 7th ICNI are summarized in the Seoul Declaration, adopted on the final day of the conference.1 The preamble of the Declaration expresses the basic idea regarding human rights and terrorism. It provides that while recognizing terrorist acts themselves as serious human rights violations, measures to fight terrorist acts must be taken within the framework of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. It further provides that:

Terrorism has a devastating impact on the full range of human rights, most directly the right to life and personal security. Respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential tools to combat terrorism. National security and the protection of the rights of the individual must be seen as interdependent and interrelated. Counter-terrorism measures adopted by the States should therefore be in accordance with international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law.

The general principles section of the Declaration set forth the following roles for national human rights institutions: commenting on the human rights aspects of security legislation, developing early warning mechanisms and related operational guidelines, examining violations of human rights committed by States, providing human rights and humanitarian law related advice to the parties in conflict, playing a certain role in the plans, strategies and mechanisms for the peaceful and negotiated resolution of conflicts, placing human rights concerns in a broader societal context and focus also on the underlying causes of the conflicts, and promoting a human rights culture, equality and diversity, and reflecting these principles by having a fair and equitable representation of women.

Relationship to Japan

There are already more than 10 treaties in addition to UN General Assembly and the Security Council resolutions regarding the fight against terrorism. However, terrorism and human rights have not been a topic of serious discussions in Japan. And unfortunately, there is as yet no national human rights institution in this country that can take part in such discussions of international concern. Even if such an institution is established in the near future, there is a strong concern on whether it will satisfy the Paris Principles, and be eligible for recognition (and thus have the right to vote) in the ICNI meetings. Active participation in an international conference such as the ICNI would also be a form of international cooperation by Japan regarding terrorism.

The ICNI

The first ICNI was held in Paris in 1991 to respond to the increasing need for cooperation among national human rights institutions. The objectives of ICNI are (1) to develop and strengthen cooperation among national human rights institutions, (2) to build and strengthen friendship and solidarity among participants, (3) to discuss issues and (4) to ensure follow-up at the national level. ICNI has been held every two years as a general rule. All national human rights institution are invited to attend. However, those that do not comply with the Paris Principles,2 including provisions on their independence, are not recognized as official national human rights institutions, and do not have the right to vote at the Conference. In this sense, the Japanese national human rights institution, which is currently under debate, may be able to participate in future ICNI but will not be able to vote unless it complies with the requirements under the Paris Principles.

The 7th ICNI was attended by participants from 39 national human rights institutions officially recognized by the International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions, observers from 20 other national human rights institutions, representatives from 28 non-governmental organizations from 16 countries and 8 other organizations from 7 countries, and representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Asia- Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea hosted the conference.

Mr. Makoto Kondo is a lawyer, and a member of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

For further information, please contact: HURIGHTS OSAKA, or please visit http://www.icni.org/index.jsp

Endnotes

  1. See http://www.nhri.net.default.asp?PID=247
  2. Principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights (1993 General Assembly Resolution, A/RES/48/134)

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