Pacific MPs Dialogue on Human Rights good governance and development
By Miles Young, SPC RRRT Director
5-7 November, 2019, Port Vila, Vanuatu
The Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu, the Honourable Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas
Honourable Members of Parliament and Senior Officials from the Legislatures of Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu
The British High Commissioner to Vanuatu, Her Excellency Karen Bell
The Deputy Australian High Commissioner, Susan Ryles
Other members of the diplomatic corps and development partners
Friends and colleagues,
On behalf of our Director-General, Dr Colin Tukuitonga, I convey The Pacific Community’s warmest greetings and sincere appreciation:
- to the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu for hosting this Regional Dialogue on Human Rights and Good Governance;
- to the distinguished honourable delegates from parliaments across eight Pacific Island Countries for giving your time to enrich this Dialogue over the next three days; and
- to our partners, the British Government – through the Pacific Commonwealth Equality Project – as well as the governments of Australia and Sweden, whose support has enabled this event to take place.
Tangkyu, tangkyu tumas.
As I was reflecting on the programme for this Regional Dialogue, my recurring thought was – what motivates a person to become a parliamentarian?
Yes, it’s a fulfilling role but at the same time, it’s a tough gig. You work long hours, your weekends are taken up visiting your constituents, there is limited time for family and friends … You are the subject of intense scrutiny and often the subject of intense criticism.
So, I spoke with some of you this morning and here’s a sample of your responses – to improve health services, to improve education, to build a primary school, to create more jobs, to ensure a much needed road was built to my community, to address corruption, to address pollution, to ensure my community gained access to potable water and electricity.
The interesting thing, in the context of this regional Dialogue, is that these reasons are linked to human rights – the right of your constituents to education, the right to health, the right to gainful employment … the right to a clean and healthy environment, to a decent standard of living.
If your motivation is to achieve a sustainable development path for your countries, then human rights are at the very heart of your work. We hear and speak a lot about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals but perhaps many don’t know the extent to which the SDGs are underpinned by human rights … 90% of the 160+ targets associated with the 17 SDGs are linked to human rights treaties …. If human rights and the SDGs are so closely linked and mutually reinforcing, it only makes senses that human rights should be a key part of development efforts if the SDGs are to “leave no one behind”.
Through our work as the human rights division of The Pacific Community, RRRT is seeing a slow but growing appreciation of the value of human rights in the region. Why do I say this? Currently, 14 Pacific Island Countries have ratified one or more of the key nine human rights treaties for a cumulative total of 55 treaty commitments. The rate of reporting against treaties has increased significantly across Pacific Island Countries in recent years while participation in the Universal Periodic Review process has improved.
On climate change, the Pacific has consistently and very publicly invoked human rights in its advocacy on this key issue for the region – some may say that we are leaders in the human rights and climate change space. From January next year, the Republic of the Marshall Islands will join Fiji as members of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Interest amongst Pacific Island Countries in establishing national human rights institutions has increased in recent years – Samoa (2013) and Tuvalu (2017) have joined Fiji in establishing a human rights institution while several other Pacific Island Countries are currently investigating whether they should establish such entities.
While these developments are positive, clearly more needs to be done to improve human rights in the region … And at RRRT, we see honourable members of parliaments as being strategically placed to play a key role on this front.
In 2015, RRRT convened a consultation with Pacific Parliamentarians which culminated with the signing of the Declaration on Human Rights and Good Governance. The Declaration recognised that human rights and good governance are essential cornerstones for social, economic and cultural development in the region and offers parliamentarians a conceptual framework to inspire and guide work on human rights in their respective countries. On the basis of the Declaration, RRRT has convened national dialogues with honourable parliamentarians in Tuvalu 2015; Marshall Islands 2016; Nauru 2016; and Kiribati (2016-2019).
A central question to be explored this week is how do we build on the Denarau Declaration – this is of course a big question but one I’m sure you’ll embrace wholeheartedly and, at the conclusion of this Dialogue, provide guidance on how the Declaration can be strengthened and taken forward.
Before I close, I’d like to acknowledge my colleagues at RRRT and our friends from the Government of Vanuatu – your hard work and brilliant ideas promise to make this Regional Dialogue a truly stimulating and inspiring event.
With those remarks, friends and colleagues, welcome again, thank you for being with us and my very best wishes for your deliberations over the next three days.
Vinaka vakalevu and tangkyu tumas.