12th APF Annual Meeting, 2007
Graphic: Kiribati is one of a number of low-lying Pacific countries at risk of climate change
Protecting the rights of people with disabilities and human rights and environment were two key issues at the APF's 12th Annual Meeting in 2007.
Protecting the rights of people with disabilities and responding to the human rights dimensions of climate change were just two of the major issues discussed at APF 12.
Held in Sydney, Australia, the meeting bought together 150 representatives from national human rights institutions (NHRIs), regional governments, non-government organisations and the United Nations to discuss some of the critical human rights questions facing the region and to identify practical responses.
A key theme of APF 12 was cooperation and collaboration for the protection and promotion of human rights.
The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives joined the APF as an Associate Member, bringing the number of member institutions to 17.
APF 12 was hosted by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and formally opened by the Attorney General of Australia, the Hon Philip Ruddock.
Rights of people with disabilities
The newly-adopted UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has the potential to profoundly improve the lives of the 600 million men, women and children around the world who have a disability.
Since its adoption in March this year, more than 100 nations have signed the Convention.
The APF 12 panel discussion looked at how NHRIs could help turn the rights outlined in the Convention from words into reality.
Speakers highlighted the crucial need to develop genuine and active partnerships with people with disabilities, as well as working closely with governments to identify areas for changes to law, policies and programs.
Cooperation between NHRIs across the Asia Pacific region was also an important part of implementing the Convention.
APF members agreed to establish a disability 'focal point' in each NHRI and to communicate regularly at a senior management level to discuss progress in protecting, promoting and monitoring the rights of people with disabilities. Read more.
Human rights and the environment
The Advisory Council of Jurists (ACJ) presented its interim report on Human Rights and the Environment, which underlined the dramatic human rights challenges facing governments and communities in the region resulting from pollution and climate change. Rising sea levels have the potential to displace up to three million people in the Asia Pacific, while polluted air and unsafe water currently contribute to almost a third of deaths and diseases in some developing countries.
The ACJ found that while many countries have environmental laws and constitutional protections in place, they were not robust enough to address the widespread human rights issues that will result from climate change and widespread environmental degradation. A key recommendation of the report is that NHRIs advocate for the adoption of a specific right to the environment.
In June 2007 the national human rights commissions of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines signed a Declaration of Cooperation, which committed the institutions to work together on five areas of shared concern. This could take the form of all four institutions working together to develop a regional strategy to address an issue such as people trafficking, or working on a bi-lateral basis to review and strengthen human rights education programs. The four institutions also agreed to work together to promote the development of a human rights mechanism for the ASEAN region, and to encourage other ASEAN governments to establish national human rights institutions.
Representatives from the national human rights institutions of Afghanistan, Jordan, Palestine and Qatar expressed strong interest in establishing a similar model of cooperation for West Asia.
In 2006 there was an increase in attacks against human rights defenders in at least half of all APF member countries. A key concern of the 25 NGOs that attended APF 12 was that NHRIs take steps to improve their protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.
NGOs also highlighted the important role of NHRIs to act as 'national preventive mechanisms' under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
They requested that NHRIs regularly report on the steps they have taken to implement the recommendation of previous reports of the ACJ and that they engage more systematically with NGOs as part of the Universal Periodic Review process.
A Human Rights Defender seminar, involving NHRI and NGO representatives, was held in conjunction with APF 12.
The APF 12 Concluding Statement summarised the major issues raised during the two-day opening meeting.
It also highlighted the key decisions made by the Forum Council during the two day closed session, including:
- Admission of the Maldives Human Rights Commission as an Associate Member
- Admission of the Jordan National Center for Human Rights and the Provedoria for Human Rights and Justice of Timor Leste as Full Members
- Requesting the ACJ undertake a reference examining the operations of transnational corporations in the Asia Pacific region and the impact on human rights
- Accepting the offer of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia to host the 13th Annual Meeting in 2008
- Electing Australia as Chairperson of the Forum, with Malaysia and the Republic of Korea elected as Deputy Chairpersons.
In response to the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Rangoon, the Concluding Statement described the human rights situation in Myanmar as "urgent". APF members agreed to request their governments to negotiate with Myanmar to bring an end to human rights abuses. The statement also expressed disappointment in actions by the Fiji Human Rights Commission which have comprised its independence. The APF offered its assistance to help re-establish the Commission's independence. In doing so APF members reaffirmed the importance of NHRIs demonstrating their independence, as set out in the Paris Principles, especially in times of conflict.
- Kiribati is one of a number of low-lying Pacific countries at risk of climate change - UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, Flickr; http://bit.ly/1k7VVIc