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FOCUS December 2002 Volume 30

The 7th Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

Kimiko Okada

The Seventh Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (Forum) was held in New Delhi on 11-13 November 2002. The first day was a closed meeting attended only by representatives of Forum Members from Australia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines and Sri Lanka. In the 12-13 November meeting, representatives of new Forum Members from Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea, other human rights commissions from the region, the Forum’s Advisory Council of Jurists, NGOs, government's and UN specialized agencies were in attendance.

The Forum’s Advisory Council of Jurists had a separate meeting from 11-12 November also in New Delhi. The NGOs, on the other hand, had a two-day meeting on 10-11 November.

There were representatives from the human rights commissions of Afghanistan, Iran and Palestine. The Afghan and Iranian commissions are considering applying for membership while the membership application of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen’s Rights is pending approval. The representative of Timor Leste government announced the plan to establish a commission in the country in 2003.

PHOTO - Opening ceremony
Opening ceremony of the Forum

Discussions

The Forum Members reported on their activities, and discussed the issues of trafficking in women and children, the proposed convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, death penalty, and child pornography.

They also reported on their activities on death penalty and child pornography in response to the recommendations contained in the interim report by the Advisory Council of Jurists on these issues submitted during last year’s Forum meeting.

The Advisory Council of Jurists submitted an interim report on trafficking of women and children, which included an analysis of the current state of international law regarding trafficking, and recommendations on measures human rights commissions should take. The representatives from UNIFEM and the Joint Women’s Programme, an NGO, reported activities in combating and assisting victims of trafficking of women and children in South Asia. The human rights commissions of India and Nepal spoke on their cross-border cooperation activities.

The Forum members discussed the proposed convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the New Zealand Commission proposal recommending, among others, the involvement of the human rights commissions in the process of drafting the convention. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Special Advisor on National Institutions, Mr. Brian Burdekin, also emphasized the importance of human rights commissions taking part in the process on their own, or as a region, or as the Forum, noting that there were very few human rights commissions present at the first UN Ad Hoc Committee meeting on the convention. The Forum members expressed their interest in considering the matter.

They also discussed the operations and functions of human rights commissions. They reviewed the Forum’s workshops for commission staff and the staff exchange programs, as well the assistance program for other national institutions by the New Zealand and Australian commissions.

To address the issue of cooperation and assistance among the Forum Members, one of the objectives of the Forum, their Senior Executive Officers met for the first time on 10 November 2002.

NGO representatives

The NGOs held a pre-Forum meeting to prepare recommendations and proposals to the Forum. They made oral presentations on the issue of trafficking of women and children and the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. They also proposed to refer the issue of anti-terrorism laws and human rights to the Advisory Council of Jurists. The emergency and anti-terrorism legislation, being enacted and strengthened in many parts of the region, came up frequently in the discussions, including the Opening Ceremony speeches. Some speakers voiced concern about the respect for human rights under these legislations. The Forum Members decided to refer to the Advisory Council the issue of primacy of the rule of law in countering terrorism worldwide while protecting human rights.

There were very few NGOs present in the meeting, perhaps because of the short notice due to the sudden change in venue. There were 15 organizations listed, compared with the 36 out of 100 observer organizations, as quoted from the previous meeting’s Concluding Statement. The NGOs were given an opportunity to make oral presentations, but NGOs were sometimes critical of the limits that were occasionally placed on their time to speak. On the other hand, when information and comments from NGOs were specifically asked for, such as on the issue of trafficking in women and children, there were times, when none of the NGOs present could respond. This was regrettable, considering the numerous NGOs working on this issue in India and in other parts of the region.

The Forum adopted the Concluding Statement summarizing the discussions during the meeting, and decided to hold the next Annual Meeting in Nepal.

Kimiko Okada is a staff member of HURIGHTS OSAKA.


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