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Human rights are guaranteed in constitutions across the Pacific and Pacific Island countries have committed to at least one of the nine core international human rights treaties - Miles Young, Director of Human Rights and Social Development at the Pacific Community (SPC)
21 February 2023
Noting that all protocols have been observed, may I on behalf of SPC, our good friends at the Asia Pacific Forum, and all of us here this morning, extend a vinaka vakalevu to you, Honourable Attorney General and Minister for Justice, for your thoughtful and inspiring address, and we applaud the Fijian Government for its plans to strengthen the National Human Rights & Anti-Discrimination Commission and human rights more generally here in Fiji, as you have just shared.
Vinaka vakalevu sir for making the time to be with us this morning and I do hope that you’re able to join us in talanoa after the morning tea break.
A warm welcome also to each and every one of you here today – it is truly encouraging to see this room filled with representatives from across the Pacific – I see many familiar faces and I’m looking forward to getting to know those less familiar but I am sure as equally committed to human rights in the region.
Many from the Pacific claim that ‘human rights’ is a foreign concept for the region. Yet, core human rights values and principles such as dignity, fairness, respect, inclusion, non-discrimination, and the protection of the vulnerable, resonate in the rich and diverse tapestry of Pacific cultures. Fijian concepts such as veidokai (honor) and veirokovi (respect), Tuvalu’s fale pili (my neighbour) and Samoa’s fa’aSamoa, all resonate with human rights values. Human rights support and promote community, which we in the Pacific value and prioritise, by ensuring no one, especially the most vulnerable, is left behind.
Human rights are guaranteed in constitutions across the Pacific and Pacific Island countries have committed to at least one of the nine core international human rights treaties – Fiji is a party to all nine treaties, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is party to seven, and Samoa and Papua New Guinea are each party to six.
Over the recent past, some Pacific Island countries have assumed key leadership roles in the international human rights space – for example, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu are global leaders in using human rights as the basis for advocacy and actions to address climate change. You are here because your countries have shown interest in joining Fiji, Samoa and Tuvalu in establishing national human rights institutions. Many of your countries have strengthened the way in which they monitor, implement and report on their human rights obligations and commitments.
Nonetheless, as a region, there is much work to do to improve our collective human rights situation. While ratifying human rights treaties is one thing, translating them into real, tangible benefits for Pacific Islanders remains a challenge.
For instance, despite a declaration by Pacific Leaders in 2012 to improve gender equality and 11 Pacific Island countries ratifying the international human rights treaty on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women, we have one of the highest rates of violence against women and girls in the world and barriers remain which inhibit women from key leadership and decision-making positions, including as members of parliament – indeed the percentage of women in our national parliaments across the Pacific is the lowest globally.
Persons with disabilities in the Pacific are among the most marginalised in their communities, over-represented amongst those living in poverty and under-represented in social, economic and public life, with generally lower health and education outcomes – this is despite 11 Pacific Island countries committing to the international human rights treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities.
And there is still more work to do in areas such as freedom of expression and the right to information, as well as in protecting and promoting the rights of members of LGBTQI+ communities and those in detention. And of course, the rights of those adversely impacted by climate change and other natural disasters will continue to be a key issue for the region.
In July this year, the Leaders of the 16 Pacific Islands Forum Countries – all of which are represented here today – endorsed the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent as the long-term blueprint to advance the region over the next three decades.
The 2050 Strategy envisions a “… resilient Pacific Region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, that ensures all Pacific peoples can lead-free, healthy and productive lives”. The Strategy commits to achieving this vision through “good governance, the full observance of democratic principles and values, the rule of law, the defence and promotion of all human rights, gender equality, and just societies.”
This landmark document reflects the collective thinking and wisdom and commitment of the Pacific as represented by our Leaders.
This bold and ambitious strategy will only become a reality if there is a collective commitment to implement it to the best of our abilities.
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is currently leading consultations on how countries across the region can deliver on the 2050 Strategy so this convening is therefore timely noting the significant contributions that national human rights institutions can make to achieving the vision of the 2050 Strategy, including and especially in relation to the intersectionality between rights, culture and faith, and how NHRI can help bring the voices of the most marginalised to the fore, and develop solutions which help our societies truly leave no one behind. In the words of the 2050 Strategy, “… a resilient Pacific Region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity, in which all Pacific peoples lead-free, healthy and productive lives.”
Friends and colleagues, may I conclude my remarks by extending best wishes for a successful regional forum, as well as a commitment from SPC and the Asia Pacific Forum – and if I may be so bold to suggest a commitment which others in the room would also gladly make – to supporting your countries establish and strengthen national human rights institutions.