13th APF Annual Meeting, 2008
Graphic: A participant addresses APF 13
Business and human rights, as well as engaging in the UN's Universal Periodic Review, were two key topics at the APF's 13th Annual Meeting in 2008.
The possibility of introducing legal sanctions against corporations that violate human rights in their operations was just one of the many issues discussed and debated at the 13th Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum (APF 13).
The meeting bought together almost 170 representatives from national human rights institutions (NHRIs), regional governments, non-government organisations (NGOs) and the United Nations to discuss key human rights concerns facing the region.
Hosted by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, APF 13 included:
- A one-day seminar for representatives of NHRIs and NGOs discussing effective approaches to engage with the Universal Periodic Review process established by the UN Human Rights Council
- Discussions by the Advisory Council of Jurists examining a reference on human rights and corporate accountability
- A one–day professional training workshop for Senior Executive Officers of APF member institutions
- The Annual General Meeting of the APF's decision-making body, the Forum Council
- A two day conference which featured country reports from APF member institutions; examples of regional co-operation; statements from NGO representatives and regional governments; and a panel discussion on the meaning and effect of Article 29(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Human rights and corporate accountability
Presenting their preliminary recommendations on the final day of the conference, the Advisory Council of Jurists said corporate social responsibility went beyond philanthropic work and must include the protection of human rights.
NHRIs had a responsibility to educate corporations on the United Nations human rights framework, the Advisory Council said, and they also had an important role to advise their national governments on potential mechanisms to address human rights violations by corporations.
Sanctions against corporations who violate human rights should be legally enforceable, and particular attention should be paid to the operations of corporations on a number of vulnerable groups, such as Indigenous communities, women and children.
There was also a need to introduce clear protections for employees or others who acted as 'whistleblowers'.
Universal Periodic Review
Productive engagement between government, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and civil society is one of the key benefits to emerge from the new UN process to review the human rights situation of individual countries, participants said during a special one-day seminar on the topic.
These discussions focused on the process for developing UPR reports and the importance of putting in place mechanisms to promote genuine consultation between all stakeholders.
In the coming year the APF will provide practical support to NHRIs in the Asia Pacific region to engage effectively with the UPR process. It will produce a 'best practice' handbook, which will draw on the experiences of the NHRIs of India, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea, who have already participated in the first and second sessions of the UPR.
Human rights defenders
A parallel meeting to APF 13, involving more than 40 NGOs from across the region, discussed the situation facing human rights defenders in the Asia Pacific.
At the APF conference NGO representatives suggested a number of practical steps that the APF could take to support human rights defenders, such as incorporating a focus on their concerns into future references of the Advisory Council of Jurists and engaging with the new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.
NGO representatives also highlighted the need to strengthen the capacity of NHRIs so they can provide immediate protection against human rights violations. They also suggested developing a 'human rights impact assessment tool' that could be used to monitor policies that adversely affect economic, social and cultural rights.
APF 13 outcomes
The key outcomes of the APF Forum Council meeting included:
- Offering Associate Membership of the APF to the Iranian Islamic Human Rights Commission (with the Commission subsequently advising the APF that it would not accept Associate Membership)
- Deferring the review of the Associate Membership of the Qatar National Human Rights Committee
- Accepting the offer of the Jordan National Centre for Human Rights to host the 14th Annual Meeting in 2009
- Electing the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia to the position of APF Chair for the coming year, with the Jordan National Centre for Human Rights and the Australian Human Rights Commission elected to the two positions of Deputy Chairs.
Issues relating to the rights of Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities were raised throughout the APF 13 conference and the APF agreed to incorporate a focus on these rights in its work programme for 2008-2009.
In its Conference Statement the APF noted with concern the continuing human rights violations in Myanmar. It also requested the Iranian Islamic Human Rights Commission take steps to protect human rights defenders in Iran and promote the registration of relevant human rights organisations, in accordance with the Iranian Constitution and national law.
- A participant addresses APF 13 - APF/James Iliffe