Pacific delegates at the largest Pacific Regional Forum on National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) held in February 2023 in Nadi, Fiji, agreed on the importance and value of developing accessible country-level pathways to establish and strengthen NHRI's n line with the Paris Principles, across the region.
The forum concluded with an outcomes document reaffirming the establishment and strengthening of NHRIs in the region.
The outcomes document seeks to encapsulate the good work of Pacific delegations over the course of the Forum and to elaborate on the link between the establishment and strengthening of National Human Rights Institutions and the protection and promotion of human rights for Pacific Peoples.
A total of 15 countries participated in the regional Forum and the delegations agreed on the importance and value of developing accessible country-level pathways to establish and strengthen NHRIs, in line with the Paris Principles, across the Pacific region.
Participants included senior government representatives, attorneys general, Ombudsmen and human rights practitioners from Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
Miles Young, the Pacific Community's director of the Human Rights and Social Development Division (HRSD) said the outcomes document is timely as significant contributions can be made by NHRIs to deliver the Pacific Islands Forum 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent endorsed by Pacific leaders in July 2022.
“This convening was 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,” Young said.
He reiterated 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.”
Niki Rattle, Cook Islands Ombudsman, who participated in the two-day Forum shared that the workshop was instrumental as the Cook Islands is now working on establishing an NHRI.
“Listening to Samoa share their experience as an NHRI during this Forum, I realised that it is not so scary,” she said.
“The Cook Islands is now working on establishing our NHRI, so it has been interesting to share experiences with colleagues from the region. It is encouraging as it gives you the drive, and the desire to do something that has been done successfully. I learnt that we are not alone and there is a lot of support from the region, especially from organisations like SPC and APF,” Rattle noted.
Steven Laiok from the Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Department of Community Development and Religion shared that PNG is also trying to establish an NHRI and the learnings from the Pacific NHRI Forum will help his team do that.
Kieren Fitzpatrick, Director of the Asia Pacific Forum (APF), stressed the importance of NHRIs being established within each Pacific State so that they can take into account cultural and traditional beliefs.
“An independent national body is best placed to be able to understand, promote and resolve human rights issues. The APF has worked in partnership with SPC to ensure that we can provide the Pacific States with the best advice on how to establish a national body that suits their needs,” Fitzpatrick said.
The aim of the regional forum was to facilitate dialogue among Pacific government representatives to share experiences and challenges and identify strategies to establish NHRIs in Pacific Island Countries across the region.
Currently, only three Pacific Island Countries have formally established National Human Rights Institutions—Samoa, which is the only “A” status accredited NHRI in the region, Fiji and Tuvalu.
The Forum was organised by the Pacific Community (SPC) Human Rights and Social Development Division (HRSD) and the Asia Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions, through funding provided by the United States Agency for International Development, under the Promoting Just, Engaged, Civic-Minded and Transparent (PROJECT) Governance programme, and New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade.
Read the full Outcomes Document from the Pacific Regional Forum on NHRIs here: https://bit.ly/3XNbhEF