A regional workshop on cooperation between national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Asia was held on 30 November to 1 December 2006 in Bangkok.
Organized by FORUM Asia, the workshop was attended by representatives of national and regional NGOs, NHRIs and United Nations (UN) agencies.
The workshop started with a session on the "Challenges, Limitations and Opportunities of NHRIs in Asia" and "Updates on the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF), the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of the NHRIs and the 8th International Conference for NHRIs (Bolivia, 24-27 October 2006): Platform for NGO engagement." Mr. Brian Burdekin of Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI) was the main speaker on the first topic, while Ms. Suraina Pasha, Training Manager of APF, spoke on the second topic.
This session was followed by the launching of FORUM Asia's Assessment of the NHRIs Performance including their Cooperation with NGOs Report 2006. Participants from India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Timor Leste, Mongolia, and South Korea presented experiences on NGO-NHRI cooperation in their respective countries, as well as assessment of their own NHRIs. Participants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, Singapore, Japan, and Taiwan reported on the lack of progress on the plan to establish NHRIs.
The second day sessions were devoted to presentations on particular issues affecting NGO-NHRI cooperation. Mr. Jefferson Plantilla of HURIGHTS OSAKA spoke about human rights education, Mr. Ruki Fernando of FORUM-ASIA spoke about protection for human rights defenders by NHRIs, and Ms. Sneh Aurora of Equitas (formerly Canadian Human Rights Foundation) spoke about women's issues and NHRIs.
The discussions dwelt on a number of important issues affecting the cooperation between NGOs and the NHRIs, and the performance of the NHRIs.
It was clarified that APF has a membership review process that determines whether or not the member-NHRIs continue to subscribe to the Paris Principles particularly on independence and capacity to respond to human rights violations cases. A member-NHRI found unable to maintain subscription to the Paris Principles may be downgraded to an associate member status. Many participants viewed the NHRIs as lacking in political will to pursue significant cases involving government officials, and members of the police and the military. They were criticized for slow, if not insufficient, investigation of complaints.
The participants conceded however that the NHRIs suffer from weak cooperation of government agencies including the police and the military in investigating cases. The participants also noted that NHRIs had no choice but to wait for the government to act on their recommendations on the prosecution of cases - a result of their lack of prosecutory power. They also noted that a number of NHRIs are suffering from inadequate financial resources as well as insufficiently trained staff.
The participants noted the problem of non-transparent process of appointing members of NHRIs, and the appointment of people who were considered lacking in human rights work experience. This probably explains the presence of inactive NHRI members.
Many participants thought that NHRIs are generally weak in cooperating with NGOs especially in relation to the investigation of cases. Their cooperation seemed to be hindered by suspicion of each other's motives. There is better cooperation, however, between them in human rights promotion activities.
The workshop ended with a discussion on how to improve the process of assessing NHRIs as well as the effective use of the assessment reports. APF was identified as a significant institution to lobby for more effective NHRIs. In view of this, a network was formed tentatively named Asian Network on NHRIs or ANNI.
For the full report on the workshop, please contact: FORUM-ASIA Secretariat, Baan Vichien, Apartment 3B, 220 Soi Sukhumvit 49/12, Klongton Nua, Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand; ph (662) 391 8801(ext. 502); fax (662) 391 8764; e-mail: rashid@foru m - asia.org; anselmo@foru m - asia.org; www.forum-asia.org