14th APF Annual Meeting, 2009
Graphic: Participants at APF 14
Fighting corruption and the importance of interfaith dialogue were two key topics of the APF's 14th Annual Meeting, held in 2009.
The role of national human rights institutions in fighting corruption and the need to reinvigorate open and informed dialogue between people of all faiths were the major discussion themes of the 14th Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum (APF 14).
The meeting bought together over 150 representatives from national human rights institutions (NHRIs), regional governments, non-government organisations, the United Nations and donor groups.
Hosted by the Jordan National Centre for Human Rights, and co-sponsored by the APF and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, APF 14 included:
- A half–day meeting of the 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, featuring reports from APF member institutions; statements from regional governments and NGOs and thematic discussions on corruption and religion.
Representatives from the governments of Nauru and Samoa made commitments to actively explore the establishment of NHRIs in their countries, with the APF offering to provide technical support.
A parallel meeting of non-government and civil society organisations from across the Asia Pacific region was held prior to, and following, the Annual Conference.
Human rights and corruption
A panel of expert speakers stressed the need to develop human rights based approach to tackling corruption, which if left unchecked can seriously weaken people's economic, social and cultural rights, as well as their civil and political rights.
They said the rippling effects of corruption have a disproportionate impact on the poor and marginalised groups by limiting the resources available for basic services, as well as undermining public trust in public institutions, such as the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and the government.
In response, NHRIs should use their mandate to take practical steps to analyse the complaints they receive to 'map' corruption; bring cases or prepare evidence for cases of corruption; advocate for stronger anti-corruption laws; and use their education role to explain the link between corruption and human rights.
They also noted that NHRIs had a duty to help protect 'whistleblowers' who brought cases of corruption to public attention, as well as defending the rights of people falsely accused of corruption.
In the general discussion that followed, conference delegates highlighted the need for NHRIs to be free of corruption and independent from political influence.
Human Rights and Religion
During his keynote presentation, H.R.H. Prince Hassan bin Talal highlighted the critical importance of building both inter-faith and intra-faith dialogue to promote greater understanding and foster the protection and promotion of human rights.
He said the "noble art of listening and conversation had atrophied" through fear and anger but must be revived in order to genuinely engage people and communities of all faith backgrounds.
Dr Bassam Al-Omoush, President of the Jordan Political Observatory, stressed the value of using a human rights approach to balance potentially competing rights.
Richard Tankersley, Commissioner with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, provided a description of its work in facilitating the country's Diversity Action Forum, which includes a National Religious Diversity Network.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders in a number of countries across the Asia Pacific face a precarious situation and need greater protection and support from national human rights institutions, said representatives from the region's non-government organisations.
They urged the APF to express support and solidarity with human rights defenders across the Asia Pacific, to make efforts to establish independent national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in countries where they do not exist and to support and strengthen existing NHRIs to be active and effective.
The NGOs worked together during a parallel meeting to identify practical steps that the APF and its member institutions could take to strengthen institutional protection of human rights, as well as lead progress on key thematic human issues, including corruption; freedom of religion and belief; migration and human trafficking; and sexual orientation and gender identity.
APF 14 outcomes
The key outcomes of the APF Forum Council meeting included:
- Approval of a proposal to use ICC accreditation decisions in determining membership status for the APF; as a result, the national human rights institutions of Palestine and Qatar became full members of the APF and the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission became an associate member of the APF
- Approval of a proposal to separate the annual Forum Council and business meetings of the APF from the APF Conference
- The decision to convene the APF 15 annual meeting in 2010 in a central regional location; and to convene the combined APF 16 Annual Meeting and Conference in 2011 in Thailand
- The nomination of the Chief Commissioner of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission as the region's candidate for the position of ICC Chairperson
- The nomination of India, Jordan, Malaysia and New Zealand to the ICC Bureau; and the Republic of Korea to the ICC Sub-Committee on Accreditation
- The election of the Jordan National Centre for Human Rights to the position of Chairperson of the APF, and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia to the two positions of Deputy Chairpersons.
In its Conference Statement, the APF said "it would provide assistance to the Sri Lankan Commission in seeking to regain its full membership of the ICC and APF and recommended that the Sri Lankan Government appoint the Chairperson and Commissioners in accordance with the Sri Lankan Constitution".
It also said it was "informed of serious human rights violations in a number of States throughout the region, especially Myanmar, Iran and the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a result of occupation, and the corresponding difficult situation faced by human rights defenders. NHRIs pledged to take all available steps to protect human rights defenders."
- Participants at APF 14 - APF/James Iliffe