Human rights meeting in the Asia-Pacific region

Delegates attending the Bangkok conference were given the opportunity to review and discuss the evolution and benefits of a number of regional human rights mechanisms including the most recent, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights which met for the first time in April 2010.

Human Rights practitioners drawn from 30 Asian States meet in Bangkok to explore avenues for strengthening regional human rights initiatives. - © OHCHR Bangkok photo"The 15th Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region, hosted by the Royal Thai Government was attended by representatives from the UN Human Rights office, several national human rights institutions and civil society organisations and delegates from more than 30 States.

The first of the Workshops was convened 20 years ago in Manila to explore the possibility of developing a regional human rights arrangement for the Asia-Pacific. In the opening address to the gathering, delivered on her behalf by Homayoun Alizadeh, the South East Asia Regional Representative for the UN Human Rights office, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang noted there had been, in the years since, “a growing recognition in the region and around the world of the importance of developing regional arrangements to complement national and international efforts in promoting, protecting and realizing human rights”.

Through the initial Workshops, member states agreed on a ‘building block’ approach to the development of regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights, focusing initially on national-level strategies. In 1998 states adopted the Teheran framework which identifies “four pillars” or components which could form the core of national human rights programmes: national action plans; human rights education; national institutions to promote and protect human rights; and strategies for the realization of the right to development and economic, social and cultural rights.

With those ‘four pillars’ as the context, the Bangkok Workshop assessed the current stock of national and regional initiatives and through the exploration of best practices and experiences sought to strengthen existing regional human rights mechanisms.

Kang referred in her address to the “significant developments” achieved in the past two decades: the recent establishment of the Human Rights Committee under the Arab Charter on Human Rights; the first ever regional human rights body, ASEAN’s Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights; and on-going consultations on the potential development of an individual human rights mechanism for member States of the Organisation of Islamic Conference and for the Pacific Islands Forum.

Additionally, national human rights institutions have been established by many States and many have National Human Rights Action Plans in place.

“With the establishment of the first regional human rights mechanisms in the region, it will be important for the Asia-Pacific Framework to discuss how they can be strengthened and supported, and to explore how similar progress might be achieved in other parts of the region,” Kang said. The Deputy underlined that the Human Rights office has a key role to play in assisting States in the sharing of information and lessons learned in the establishment and functioning of regional human rights mechanisms.

The meeting concluded with delegates welcoming the emergence of a regional human rights infrastructure, in particular the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. They noted that the different regional arrangements while evolving in different forms in different regional contexts, nevertheless should reinforce universal human rights standards.

27 April 2010