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Annual Report 2001-2002: Chapter 9

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Annual Report 2000-2001

Chapter 9: International Activities

In
2000-01, as in past years, the Commission participated in some bilateral
international program activities, generally as part of the Australian
Government’s development cooperation program developed by the Australian
Agency for International Development (AusAID).

The Commission’s
international program role arises due to the expertise the Commission
has developed in pursuit of its domestic mandate. The Commission also
holds the belief that the strengthening of human rights protection and
development everywhere only ensures the enhancement of human rights
activities and awareness anywhere, including Australia. In some cases
regional countries wish to access this expertise in pursuit of their
own human rights objectives, while in other cases the Australian Government
wishes to use the expertise in pursuit of its development cooperation
objectives. To respond to all requests for program activities could
potentially distract the Commission from its primary, domestic mandate.
It therefore participates only when a number of pre-requisites are satisfied,
including that all of the Commission’s costs are met, that the
program is clearly capable of achieving its goals and that it does not
detract in any way from the Commission’s domestic work.

The Commission’s
most substantial international program involvement is with the Human
Rights Technical Cooperation Program (HRTC), which is an integral part
of the annual Dialogue on Human Rights with China. HRTC undertakes each
year a series of activities intended to assist China to promote and
protect human rights. In 2000-01 the program included providing scholarships
for Chinese officials to study human rights in Australia, conducting
seminars and workshops in China on human rights subjects, providing
training to Chinese judges, prosecutors, police and legal aid lawyers
and assisting with the introduction of measures to protect women from
family violence and to protect the rights of prisoners.

The program has
an immediate impact on the formulation of administrative procedures.
In the longer term the program aims to have an impact through increasing
the level of knowledge of human rights concepts, with a resultant impact
on the formulation of Chinese policies and practices. The program therefore
seeks to work with the Chinese authorities to demonstrate the value
of institutionalising the regard for human rights and to then work with
those authorities to formulate and implement practical strategies to
realise that value.

The Commission
is also working with the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights
(Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia, commonly known as Komnas HAM). This
program is intended to strengthen the capacity of Komnas HAM to fulfil
its broad mandate. This is accomplished both through specific capacity
building activities and by directly assisting Komnas HAM to disseminate
an understanding of human rights principles amongst Indonesia officials
and the general population.

In 2000-01 a series
of activities ranging from training in the handling of complaints and
the conduct of national inquiries through to assistance with the National
Human Rights Seminar were conducted. The Commission is currently developing
an activity aimed at strengthening the capacity of Komnas HAM to investigate
and to partcipate in the prosecution of gross violations of human rights.

Similarily, the
Commission is assisting the South African Commission on Gender Equality
to build its capacity to develop general policies, to handle complaints
and to conduct effective legal intervention.

In 2000-01 the
Commission has also worked with Vietnamese authorities in a modest program
of cooperation aimed at developing policies directed at the protection
of human rights in that country.

The Commission
has worked with other countries on a small scale, generally in the technical
areas of human rights protection. For instance officials of the Commission
have worked with the Government of Uganda to develop its capacity to
conduct national human rights inquiries and with the Government of Indonesia
to develop its capacity to implement ILO Convention 111 (guaranteeing
equality in employment).

International Visitors to
the Commission

During the reporting
period the Commission was pleased to receive a number of delegations
from countries including Korea, Mongolia, Uganda, China, Indonesia,
Vietnam and Japan. The President, the Executive Director and senior
staff made presentations to the delegations about the Commission, its
structure, work and legislation. The delegations comprised of senior
officals from government or the bureaucacy as well as some judical representation.
All delegation members were provided with a set of materials abut the
Commission and its role at both a domestic and international level.

Asia Pacific Forum of National
Human Rights Institutions

The Commission’s
1996-97 Annual Report discussed the establishment of the Asia-Pacific
Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (the Forum) on 10 July 1996
and previous annual reports have provided information on the role and
functions of the Forum Secretariat.

Briefly, the Forum
is a regional organisation comprised of national human rights institutions
that comply with the minimum standards contained in the United Nations
General Assembly endorsed ‘Principles Relating to the Status of
National Human Rights Institutions’ (more commonly know as the
Paris Principles – see General Assembly resolution 48/134 of 20
December 1998, annex). There are currently eight national human rights
institutions in the region that are members of the Forum: the Human
Rights Commissions from Australia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Nepal, New
Zealand, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The recently established Commissions
in Mongolia and Thailand are anticipated to become the ninth and tenth
members of the Forum at its Sixth Annual Meeting in September 2001.

The work of the
Forum can be categorised under three broad areas:

i. Strengthening
the capacity of individual Forum members to enable them to undertake
more effectively their national mandates.

ii. Assisting
governments to establish their own national institutions in compliance
with the minimum criteria contained in the Paris Principles.

iii. Promoting
regional cooperation on human rights issues.

From its inception,
the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has hosted
the Secretariat of the Forum. The Australian Government, through the
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hon. Alexander Downer MP,
and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) has
provided both political and financial support for the Forum. Additional
funding is provided by a range of donors on a project-by-project basis.

During 2000-01
the Secretariat’s operations focused on four main areas of activity

i. the development
and delivery of technical assistance and cooperation projects

ii. information
dissemination

iii. administrative
support for the Forum and its activities, and

iv. transforming
the legal and managerial structure of the Forum to become an independent
entity.

The main projects
undertaken throughout the reporting year have included the following:

Human Rights Commission
of Nepal Needs Assessment Mission

In July 2000 the
Director of the Forum Secretariat participated in a joint mission with
the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
(OHCHR) and the United Nations Development Program to Nepal. The purpose
of the mission was to work with the recently established Human Rights
Commission of Nepal to develop a program of technical cooperation and
to encourage donor coordination in the provision of assistance to the
Commission. The mission was successful in developing a comprehensive
technical assistance framework. A second visit in September 2000 by
two international consultants, again representing the Forum and the
United Nations, undertook further work on the details of the comprehensive
program of assistance. The program is currently being implemented by
a range of international donors.

Fifth Annual Meeting of
the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

In August 2000
the Forum held its Fifth Annual Meeting in New Zealand. The meeting
was organised by the Forum Secretariat in collaboration with the host
institution, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. It was co-sponsored
by the OHCHR and financially supported by OHCHR, the New Zealand Government,
through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Australian
Government, through AusAID. The meeting was attended by over 130 delegates
representing all Forum members, 20 regional governments and non-governmental
organizations from 24 countries. The main decisions of the meeting included:

  • The admission
    of the Human Rights Commission of Nepal as the 8th member of the Forum
  • ‘In principle’
    approval for the transition of the Forum to an independent organisation
    with a new legal and managerial structure
  • Agreement on
    Secretariat recommendations on a range of issues including the World
    Conference on Racism, the implementation of economic, social and cultural
    rights, child soldiers, guidelines on internally displaced people,
    the promotion of women’s rights, regional responses to crises
    affecting the work of national institutions and the appointment of
    the region’s representatives on the International Coordinating
    Committee of National Institutions.

In addition to
the above, the inaugural meeting of the Forum’s Advisory Council
of Jurists was held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting. The Council
considered two issues – the death penalty and child pornography
and the Internet – and provided Forum members with their conclusions
on both issues.

Regional Systems of Human
Rights Protection in Asia

In October 2000
the Director of the Forum Secretariat participated in a seminar on ‘Regional
Systems of Human Rights Protection in Asia’, held in Strasbourg,
France. The seminar was organised and funded by the Friedrich Naumann
Stiftung, a major German donor, under the auspices of the Secretary
General of the Council of Europe.

The objective of
the seminar was to advocate for the development of a regional government-to-government
human rights mechanism for the Asian region. The seminar was attended
by approximately 40 invited participants from South Asian and South-East
Asian countries. Representatives from the European, Inter-American and
African regional human rights mechanisms were also in attendance.

Second Annual Meeting of
Inter-American National Institutions

In November 2000
at the invitation of the organisers, the Executive Director of the Commission
and the Director of the Forum Secretariat, attended the Second Annual
Meeting of Inter-American National Institutions, held in Mexico City,
Mexico. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss two issues –
(i) the possible formation of a regional network of American national
institutions based on the successful model of the Forum and (ii) the
role of American national institutions in the forthcoming World Conference
Against Racism.

The meeting resolved
to establish an inter-American network of national institutions established
in compliance with the minimum standards contained in the Paris Principles.
The Mexican Commission agreed to act as the interim host institution
for the Secretariat of the network.

Ninth United Nations workshop
on human rights arrangements in the Asia Pacific region

In February 2001
the Forum Secretariat was invited to attend and participate in the 9th
United Nations Asia Pacific Workshop on Regional Co-operation for the
Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which was held in Bangkok,
Thailand. The workshop was attended by representatives from over 35
countries, international experts, United Nations agencies and non-government
organisations. A major component of the meeting was an examination of
two Forum activities – the regional workshop on the rights of women
held in Fiji in May 2000 and the 5th annual meeting of the Forum. A
representative from the Forum Secretariat gave a formal presentation
on both of these issues. At the conclusion of the meeting regional governments
agreed on a framework document for the provision of technical assistance
to encourage and promote regional human rights arrangements. The framework
document explicitly recognises the role of Forum and provides funds
for the establishment and strengthening of national institutions.

Regional Preparatory Meeting
for Asia for the World Conference Against Racism

In February 2001
the Forum participated in an inter-governmental regional preparatory
meeting for Asia for the United Nations World Conference Against Racism,
which was held in Tehran, Iran. The Forum was represented at the meeting
by an officer of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Commonwealth Best Practice
Principles for National Institutions

In March 2001 the
Director of the Forum Secretariat was invited by the Commonwealth Secretariat
to participate in an Expert Group to develop ‘Best Practice Principles
for National Institutions in the Commonwealth’. Representatives
from a select range of Commonwealth national institutions and the United
Nations were in attendance.

57th session of the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights

In April 2001,
the Director of the Forum Secretariat participated in the 57th session
of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the pre-eminent international
human rights forum. Items of business of particular importance to the
work of the Forum were resolutions relating to national human rights
institutions and regional human rights arrangements in the Asia Pacific.
A formal statement was presented to the United Nations Commission on
the work of the Forum, the role of national institutions in United Nations
meetings and the importance of the Paris Principles. In addition, meetings
were held with representatives of the United Nations, including the
High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, concerning United
Nations activities in relation to national institutions.

United
Nations Regional Workshop on Globalisation

In May 2001 the
Forum was invited to attend and make a formal presentation to a United
Nations Regional Workshop on Globalisation which was held in Malaysia.
The Forum was represented at the meeting by an officer from the New
Zealand Human Rights Commission and a representative of the Secretariat.

Video Documentary

The Forum is making
a video documentary on the role and functions of national institutions
in the Asia Pacific region. During the year a film crew undertook filming
in Fiji, Indonesia and India. Issues examined included the role of national
institutions in promoting women’s rights, combating human rights
violations in Aceh and eliminating child labour. It is anticipated that
the documentary will be completed in the second half of 2001.

Transition Process

At the 5th annual
meeting of the Forum held in New Zealand in 2000, Forum members provided
in principle support for the Forum to proceed to incorporation as an
independent entity. Since that meeting a working group of the Forum,
comprised of representatives of the host institution (the Australian
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission), the OHCHR, the Forum
Secretariat and the Regional Coordinator of the Forum (the New Zealand
Human Rights Commission), have been meeting on a regular basis to work
though the various organisational, administrative and financial issues
required to enable the smooth transition of the Forum to a new legal
structure.

The deliberations
of the working group have been guided by the Paris Principles; the vision
and mission of the Forum; and to a commitment to ensure the full participation
of all Forum members. Matters discussed have included the future structure
of an independent Forum, ensuring the Forum has adequate funds to operate
effectively, and, the future constitutional basis of the Forum. During
the reporting period the working group developed a strategic plan, a
fundraising plan, a business plan and a draft constitution. This process
has been generously supported by AusAID. Forum members will consider
the transition process at the 6th annual meeting of the Forum which
will be held in September 2001.