Nicholas Rosellini: Remarks on World Human Rights Day

06 Dec 2012

Tueloma Neroni Slade, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Ms Fekita Moeloa ‘Utoikamanu – Deputy Director General                                          
Ms Virisila Buadromo (tbc) – Director, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement
Your Excellences’ and members of the Diplomatic Corp
UN colleagues

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we approach the international human rights day next week, it is my pleasure to launch today a new human rights publication, the Pacific Handbook on Human Rights Treaty Implementation.

The Pacific region has increasingly recognized the centrality of human rights in addressing its development challenges and did so when publishing the Pacific Plan in 2005.  The Plan, under Initiative 12.5, gave prominence to the importance for countries to ratify and implement international and regional human rights conventions, covenants and agreements and underlined the need for Government’s to be given support in reporting progress as well in following through on the associated requirements of ratification.

Since 2005, I am pleased to note that there have been more countries ratifying human rights treaties; more countries reporting to treaty bodies; invitations being issued for and visits by Special Rapporteurs; and most specifically by the full participation of all UN member States in the Pacific in the Universal Periodic Review Process.

With respect to ratifications and signatures of human rights treaties, let me mention just a few:

  • Vanuatu ratified the Convention against Torture in 2011;
  • Nauru ratified the CEDAW convention in 2011 and the Convention against Torture in 2012;
  • The Federated States of Micronesia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the child in 2012;
  • Palau signed 8 of the nine core human rights treaties in 2011; and
  • Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Federated States of Micronesia signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011.

As we all know, the signature and ratification of human rights treaties are important first steps. They signal a country’s commitment towards human rights and this opens up space for engagement with development partners and the UN human rights system and should pave the way for enacting legislative change and other measures to make good on the intent of the treaties. Without implementation, little changes will be made to peoples’ lives. 

This is where this new handbook developed by UNDP and OHCHR comes in. Apart from providing background on the various treaties; the processes of signing and ratifying; the steps for reporting to treaty bodies; and the role human rights mechanisms more generally, the Handbook also gives suggestions on actual implementation.

The Handbook includes examples of concrete initiatives Pacific Island countries have taken to implement human rights treaties. And as such can help countries learn from each other and provide the introduction to potential south-south cooperation where countries interested to can propose technical exchanges to learn first-hand how others have followed through after ratification.

The following are just a few examples of encouraging progress made in some Pacific Island countries to implement human rights treaties that will impact on people’s lives:

  • Samoa’s adoption of a National Disability Action Plan;
  • Fiji’s decriminalization of adult same-sex relationships;
  • Papua New Guinea’s establishment of a Human Rights Forum;
  • The Republic of the Marshall Islands’ adoption of the domestic violence prevention and protection act; and
  • Steps taken by Samoa, Palau, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands to establish a national human rights institution.

UNDP, jointly with OHCHR, other UN Agencies, the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat and the Secretariat of the Pacific Communities, have supported and will continue to support Pacific Island countries in their efforts to realize human rights. We have been providing assistance in legislative reform and implementation, in gathering data and information, and in aligning national policies with human rights obligations.

Human rights are at the core of the whole UN’s work, but must also go well beyond the UN; and the following statement by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan most aptly demonstrates the centrality of human rights in the work everyone is involved with.  I quote:

    “We will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.”

We will continue to support Pacific Island governments, civil society, parliaments, the media, and human rights defenders in furthering human rights in this region.

I encourage you all to enjoy using the Pacific Handbook on Treaty Implementation

Thank you very much