* Moeko Nozawa is a staff member of HURIGHTS OSAKA.
The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, and held its annual meeting from 24-26 August 2005 in Ulaanbaatar. The National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia hosted the meeting.
The APF started with 4 member-institutions (Australia, New Zealand, India, and Indonesia) in 1996 and grew to 17 member-institutions in 2005. In the 2005 meeting, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission was accepted as the latest full member, while the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar was accepted as an associate member. The Office of the P rovedor (Ombudsman) for Human Rights and Justice of Timor-Leste was accepted as a candidate-member. Aside from the representatives of APF member-institutions, representatives from 6 governments, 35 NGOs, UN agencies and others joined the 2005 meeting as observers.
The meeting focused mainly on the following themes: "NHRIs and Human Rights Education", "NHRIs and Internally Displaced Persons", and "NHRIs and the prevention of torture and other forms of ill-treatment". On human rights education, the APF encouraged member-institutions to establish effective partnership with educational authorities, and emphasized that "Education for All" should be included in the full realization of the right to education. On the issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the APF called on all member-institutions "to take effective steps to protect and to promote the rights of IDPs in line with UN Guiding Principles on IDPs." Based on the Advisory Council of Jurists' (APF's legal advisory body) interim report on torture, the APF called on member-institutions to recommend to their governments to sign and ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol. The discussions at the 10th APF are summarized in the 2005 Concluding Statement.
Since the Asia-Pacific region does not have a mechanism to protect and promote human rights, the APF functions in a way as an alternative regional human rights mechanism. Since its establishment, the APF has been promoting cooperation and joint activities among NHRIs on such areas as capacity-building. The Human Rights Investigation Techniques Training Program is an example. It is designed for APF member-institutions' staff with responsibility for managing and conducting investigation of serious human rights abuses. This and other programs are effective measures that support NHRIs which lack human and financial resources. The Staff Exchange and Placement Program contributes not in the development of skills of staffs but in further developing regional cooperation in the field of human rights. These mutual aid and regional cooperation activities of the APF are very valuable indeed. In light of questions on some NHRIs about their performance or fitness, the APF should set up a system for periodic review of the performance and adherence of NHRIs to the Paris Principles.
On the other hand, since there are many countries without NHRIs or not working toward their establishment (like Japan and Bangladesh), the APF should encourage and support these countries to establish NHRIs.
Needless to say, collaborative effort with the civil society including NGOs is indispensable for the protection and promotion of human rights. The NHRIs/APF should reaffirm the spirit of "The Kandy Program of Action: Cooperation Between National Institutions and Non Governmental Organizations". This program of action has "reaffirmed faith in the crucial importance of cooperation between NHRIs and NGOs and recognized that they should work together on the basis of their common commitment to the universality and indivisibility of human rights..." It may be asked though: how many NGOs have had collaborative work with their NHRIs so far? As far as the APF is concerned, not a few NGOs see it as the only regional framework in the field of human rights, and are ready to contribute to its work in protecting and promoting human rights. Reality, however, shows that there were few opportunities for NGOs to present their views in the APF meetings. It is essential that the NHRIs/APF have close relations with the civil society including NGOs in order to contribute to the further development of human rights in the region. It would be essential for the NHRIs/APF to revisit the importance of multiparty cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights while commemorating its 10th anniversary.
For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.
1. For further information about the Advisory Council of Jurists visit: www.asiapacificforum.net/jurists/index.html.
2. The Concluding Statement will be uploaded in the APF website (www.asiapacificforum.net) soon.
3. "Principles relating to the status of national institutions". Full members of the APF must comply with the minimum standards set out in the 'Paris Principles'. See www.nhri.net/pdf/ParisPrinciples.english.pdf.
4. For the full text of this document, seewww.asiapacificforum.net/training/workshops/ngos/concluding.htm
5. See Human Rights Feature s , 126/05 (08 September, 2005),"APF 2005: NGOs walk out over lack of space--- How credible can a network of NHRIs be without NGO participation?", in www.hrdc.net/sahrdc/hrfeatures/HRF126.htm