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HREOC - Annual Report 2001 - 2002: Chapter 10: Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

Annual Report 2001-2002

Chapter 10: Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

Established in
1996, the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions
became an incorporated public company limited by guarantee on 20 March
2002. It is now an independent legal entity and the Forum Secretariat
has a formal agreement with the Australian Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission for the provision of accommodation and corporate
services for its operations.

The positions
of Forum Chair and two Deputy Chairs have been established and are
rotated on an annual basis. The current Chair of the Forum is the
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and Deputy Chairs are the Human
Rights Commissions of Nepal and New Zealand.

The annual meetings
and workshops of the Forum are among the largest and most comprehensive
regular human rights meetings in the Asia Pacific region. They are
a mechanism for the practical advancement of human rights, particularly
because they bring together national human rights institutions, the
United Nations, governments and non-government organisations in a
harmonious, practical and largely non-political setting. Through this
mechanism the Forum has demonstrated its role as a catalyst for the
mobilisation of technical cooperation funds for human rights initiatives
and as a facilitator for the establishment of new national institutions.

The Australian
Government, through the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and
the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) has provided
financial support for the Forum. Additional funding is provided by
a range of donors including the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights on a project-by-project basis.

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

1. Strengthening
the capacity of individual Forum members to enable them to more
effectively undertake their national mandates.
2. Assisting governments to establish their own national institutions
in compliance with the minimum criteria contained in the Paris Principles.
3. Promoting regional cooperation on human rights issues.

During 2001-02
the Secretariat's operations focused on four main areas of activity:

  • the development
    and delivery of technical assistance and cooperation projects
  • information
    dissemination
  • administrative
    support for the Forum and its activities
  • transforming
    the legal, managerial and operational structure of the Forum to
    become an independent entity.

The main projects
undertaken from 1 July 2001 to 20 March 2002 have included the following:

Workshop on the Role of
Human Rights Institutions and Other Mechanisms in Promoting and Protecting
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

This Workshop
was held from 11 - 13 July 2001 in the Hong Kong Special Administrative
Region, People's Republic of China. It was organised by the Forum
Secretariat, in collaboration with the host institution, the Hong
Kong Equal Opportunities Commission. It was co-sponsored by the United
Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and financially assisted
by AusAID. It was attended by regional national human rights institutions,
governments, non-government organisations and United Nations Treaty
Body representatives including the Chair of the United Nations Committee
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a Member of the United Nations
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and an Independent
Expert on the Right to Development.

The Workshop
covered issues including:

  • the corporate
    sector and economic, social and cultural rights
  • justiciability
    of economic, social and cultural rights
  • the relationship
    between the right to development and economic, social and cultural
    rights
  • the relationship
    between racism and economic, social and cultural rights.

Sixth Annual Meeting of
the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

In September
2001 the Forum held its Sixth Annual Meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The meeting was organised by the Forum Secretariat in collaboration
with the host institution, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.
It was co-sponsored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights and financially supported by 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 organisations
from 24 countries. The main decisions of the meeting included:

  • a commitment
    to develop a reference on trafficking for the Advisory Council of
    Jurists
  • a decision
    to hold a regional workshop in 2002 on trafficking with a focus
    on HIV/AIDS, internal displacement and the rights of women.

A highlight of
the meeting was the official launch of the Forum's video documentary,
featuring the work of the national human rights institutions of India,
Indonesia and Fiji.

In addition the
members of the Forum adopted a new Constitution for the Forum. This
decision followed a two year review of the Forum's legal and governance
structure by a working group established by members at the Fourth
Annual Meeting in 1999. Members unanimously resolved that the organisation
should become an independent, non-profit, legal entity. To drive the
new organisation the organisational structure of the Forum was revised
to be more inclusive with policy making clearly in the hands of its
members. At this meeting the Mongolian Human Rights Commission was
admitted as the ninth full member of the Forum.

HIV/AIDS and Human Rights:
The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in the Asia Pacific
Region

This meeting
was held in Melbourne, Australia in October 2001. It was organised
by the Forum and sponsored by the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights and Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS. It
was held under the auspices of the Sixth International Congress on
AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. The goal was to enhance awareness of
and cooperation on HIV/AIDS related human rights issues in the Asia
Pacific region through support to and strengthening of national human
rights institutions.

The workshop
focused on HIV/AIDS related human rights issues, including the right
to health, the right to education, the right to equality and non-discrimination
and the right to information and education, and how the core functions
of national human rights institutions (complaint handling and investigation,
education and promotion and legal reform) can address these issues.
It also addressed regional issues of concern including migration and
population mobility, commercial sex, trafficking and conflict and
displacement.

Following this
workshop the Forum held discussions with the Joint United Nations
Program on HIV/AIDS about the development of a practical manual for
national human rights institutions dealing with human rights violations
on the basis of HIV/AIDS. It is proposed that the Forum will develop
the manual in collaboration with stakeholders. The manual will then
be forwarded to the International Coordinating Committee of National
Human Rights Institutions for its endorsement. The Joint United Nations
Program on HIV/AIDS will publish and distribute the completed manual.
It is anticipated that this project will be complete by end of 2003.

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

The Forum was
invited to attend and participate in the 10th United Nations Asia
Pacific Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection
of Human Rights, which was held in Beirut, Lebanon from 4 - 6 March
2002. The workshop was attended by representatives from over 35 countries,
international experts, United Nations agencies and non-government
organisations. The Forum was represented by the Deputy Chair, the
Human Rights Commission of Nepal and a representative from the Forum
Secretariat. The Human Rights Commission of Nepal gave a formal presentation
on the role of national institutions for the promotion and protection
of human rights.