The European Union and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat yesterday signed a contribution agreement to the value of 1 million Euros to support Pacific island countries in their ratification and implementation of international Human Rights Treaties and the Rome Statute.

The agreement was signed by the European Union's Head of Delegation for the Pacific, H.E. Ambassador Dr. Abdoul-Aziz Mbaye and the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Mr Tuiloma Neroni Slade during a signing ceremony held at the Forum Secretariat in Suva, Fiji.

In his remarks at the signing ceremony, Ambassador Mbaye advised that the project is funded from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, which is the EU's main mechanism that deals specifically with the promotion of human rights.

"This project provides support to actions protecting human rights and enhancing democratic process around the world. Through these projects the European Union is demonstrating a significant political and financial commitment to supporting human rights and democracy worldwide. Human rights are core values of the European Union, and as an organization founded on the respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, we believe that these values are inherently valuable and universally desirable."

"The project we are signing today has been designed to assist small Pacific island countries that have limited human capacity and financial resources to ratify and report on international norms and standards. This project aims at providing peer support and interaction around universal and agreed values," said Ambassador Mbaye.

"Central to the EU's approach is the concept that people must be placed at the heart of development. By making sure that universal human rights are enjoyed by all, we hope to contribute to supporting people's aspirations and their own efforts to improve their lives."

Speaking at the same occasion, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade said: "This funding assistance is provided specifically to support the key strategic objectives of Initiative 12.5 of the Pacific Plan in respect of the ratification and implementation of international and regional human rights conventions, covenants and agreements."

"Key to the success of our region's ongoing partnership with the EU is the shared respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles, good governance and the rule of law. These are fundamental and indispensable elements, inherently part of the strategic objectives of the Pacific Plan and the struggle in this region against and for poverty reduction, improved gender equality, and improved political and social conditions for stability and safety."

He added: "Many of our island countries are democracies with varying human rights records. But our region's overall level of ratification of human rights treaties is low, by international standards with almost all Pacific Island countries having ratified in some cases two at the most of the nine core international Human Rights instruments. And then many of the countries which have ratified international human rights treaties face difficulty in complying with accompanying reporting obligations."

Secretary General Slade also noted that "As with many countries in other parts of the world, the Pacific Island countries with their geographic size and isolation face series of challenges in implementing human rights treaties, ranging from gaps in technical knowledge or human resources to budgetary and planning demands and other competing priorities. Conscious of these challenges, the EU has offered support to the value of 1 million Euros for ratification and reporting on core Human Rights covenants and treaties and also the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court."

"I request Ambassador Mbaye to express to the European Union the gratitude and appreciation of the Pacific Islands Forum for their continued assistance and support in the work of the Secretariat, as well as Forum member countries, in our collective efforts to ensure the promotion, respect for and protection of human rights."

Eight Pacific Island countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Timor-Leste, have ratified the Rome Statute, with Vanuatu becoming the 120th State Party to do so last December.

Forum Secretary General, Mr Slade also acknowledged the important role and contribution of civil society organisations to human rights in the region.

"Their work and service in this area is simply critical, in assisting with the information and outreach activities around the ratification processes and in lobbying governments to ratify, implement and report on human rights treaties. The human rights project we are signing this morning recognises the important contribution and role that CSOs continue to play in the promotion and protection of human rights."

This project will be implemented by the Forum Secretariat in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community/Regional Rights Resource Team (SPC/RRRT), the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), and other relevant human rights stakeholders.

Fourteen Forum island countries will benefit from the project - Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Kingdom of Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.