Monday, 10 December 2012 11:41 PM

Human Rights Tools for Pacific Island Countries Launched

Suva, Fiji - Dec 6 A set of tools that will assist Pacific Island countries to design and deliver actions to further human rights were launched today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

The tools included the toolkit, "Measuring Progress: Using the Universal Periodic Review Process for the Pacific;" the report, "Human Rights in the Pacific - Country Outlines 2012" which provides an overview of human rights issues in the Pacific; and a handbook that addresses the practical and political challenges of implementing human rights treaties, the "Pacific Handbook on Human Rights Treaty Implementation."

The tools are complementary and have been launched in the lead-up of the International Human Rights Day on December 10. This year's Human Rights day's theme is right of all people - women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, the poor and marginalized - to make their voices heard in public life and be included in political decision-making.

Human Rights Treaties Signal a Country's Commitments

Speaking at the launch, Nicholas Rosellini, the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director Asia Pacific said the signature and ratification of human rights treaties are important first steps that signal a country's commitment towards human rights.

"The signature and ratification of human rights treaties opens up space for engagement with development partners and the UN human rights system and should pave the way for enacting legislative change and other measures to make good on the intent of the treaties. Without implementation, little changes will be made to peoples' lives."

The Pacific Handbook on Human Rights Treaty Implementation, developed by UNDP Pacific Centre and the Pacific Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights provides background on the various treaties; the processes of signing and ratifying; the steps for reporting to treaty bodies; and the role human rights mechanisms, and also gives suggestions on actual implementation.

Mr Rosellini said the Handbook included examples of concrete initiatives Pacific Island countries had taken to implement human rights treaties and it could help countries learn from each other.

He cited the following as a few examples of encouraging progress made in some Pacific Island countries to implement human rights treaties that will impact on people's lives: Samoa's adoption of a National Disability Action Plan; Fiji's decriminalization of adult same-sex relationships; Papua New Guinea's establishment of a Human Rights Forum; the Republic of the Marshall Islands' adoption of the domestic violence prevention and protection act; and steps taken by Samoa, Palau, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands to establish a national human rights institution.

Pacific Islands' Participation in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

Speaking at the launch, Fekitamoeloa 'Utoikamanu, the Deputy Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, said the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is an important process and that all Pacific States have appeared before the UPR's first cycle in Geneva.

"At the time, there was limited experience in the region about the UPR and what was involved, so many countries found the process challenging. SPC's Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) programme began supporting Pacific Island States in the reporting process back in 2009; assisting Tuvalu to report in Geneva," said Ms 'Utoikamanu.

The UPR Toolkit, "Measuring Progress: Using the Universal Periodic Review Process for the Pacific," produced by the RRRT represents a significant contribution to the learning and literature in the region on human rights, but more importantly on the UPR process itself.

"The Toolkit is not an end in itself. It is a means to measuring progress on the realisation of human rights of all our people and holding governments to account for progressing human rights. It is practical document that aims to assist PICs take a critical "self analysis" in the progress (or lack of progress) since they first reported to the UPR. By both a qualitative and quantitative measuring of the record of government commitment to human rights, the Toolkit will also help every PIC evaluate and monitor their own achievements and shortcomings in the fulfillment of human rights for their people."

SPC's support work to Pacific Island countries on UPR is done in partnership with OHCHR and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

The Deputy Coordinator of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, Edwina Kotoisuva also spoke at the launch event.

"As human rights organisations, we are constantly looking for avenues to access justice when human rights are being violated. Using international human rights mechanisms is an important part of this process and these tools will equip us to use these processes effectively. We also play a critical role in monitoring the compliance of our governments and hold them accountable but through our work on the ground we also complement the work of the states in ensuring an environment where the rights of all individuals are protected," she said.

The International Human Rights Day is celebrated globally on December 10.

By SECRETARIAT OF THE PACIFIC COMMUNITY