Address by SG Tuiloma Neroni Slade at Pacific Lawyers training workshop


Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

at the

Auckland, 29 November 2010

The Project Manager, Secretariat of the Pacific Community /Regional Rights Resource Team
Distinguished Law Officers and participants
Ladies and gentleman






First, may I thank the Secretariat of the Pacific Community through the Regional Rights Resource Team (SPC/RRRT) for the very kind invitation for me to provide a keynote statement at this important Regional Workshop.

2. I have been asked to speak about the role of lawyers in advancing the rule of law, democracy and human rights. By the nature of their profession lawyers have a place of leadership and an essential and fundamental role in the protection of human rights. They are the natural guardians of international human rights law. The professional independence and standards of their calling equip lawyers especially well to ensure that human rights standards are properly advocated and enforced within the judicial and governmental processes, and that individuals whose rights have been violated can find effective remedy domestically and, increasingly, to seek such remedies internationally. It comes with their professional responsibility that lawyers be properly informed on human rights standards, in particular those universally proclaimed and agreed to in international legal instruments and acknowledged under international law.

Universal Declaration

3. It is well known that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 is the basic statement on human rights, and that together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) they provide comprehensive definitions and the pledge of humanity for the promotion of universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and for their observance. What is perhaps less known is that the Charter of the United Nations in 1945 had established the strong and essential bond between peace, justice and development and the rights of the human being. Human rights are rooted in the nature and the condition of the human person. There is no peace where human rights are denied or systematically violated and where there is no development to bring about poverty elimination. In contrast, respect and promotion of human rights creates an environment favourable to both peace and development.

4. Read together, the Declaration provides greater clarity and definition to the rather terse reference in the Charter to “human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Indeed, by virtue of articles 55 (c) and 56 of the Charter, States are obliged to take action for the achievement of “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”

5. The evolution of international human rights law has revealed that civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights are two sides of the same coin of universal human rights. In the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 it was concluded that, "all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated." It is so because human rights belong to all cultures, and intrinsic to all nations. They are not open to optional choices for one cannot pick and choose among rights; rather we are bound by all. It is imperative therefore that there be effective protection and effective promotion of social progress and better living standards in larger freedom, for the expression of human rights is about the desire of all people to live free from the horrors of violence, famine, disease, torture and discrimination. This has been the yearning of all people from time immemorial, and remains a vital force today.

6. It is the same impetus ascribed for the Pacific Plan Vision of 2004. As framed by Forum Leaders we seek for the Pacific a “region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all of its people can lead free and worthwhile lives.” It is a vision of our Pacific which in essence claims and reasserts universal rights and freedoms.

Progress and Development


7. The verdict of history is that the twentieth century – the span of our own lifetime, for many of us in this room - has been the bloodiest in the modern era. And we know that through the cauldron of the Second World War, and the First World War before that, and as a result, humanity was able to produce the Universal Declaration.

8. Today, with an ever-globalising world, we face even more serious challenges, of urgent social change and development in order to tackle global poverty, to arrest widespread environmental degradation and to cool a warming planet. Meantime warfare and violation of people, woman and children in particular, remain a scourge in too many places. In the circumstances of our world today, the principles enshrined in the Declaration are the yardstick by which we need to measure human progress. These are principles which “lie at the heart of all that the United Nations aspires to achieve in its global mission of peace and development” .

9. Since its adoption in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has extended its reach far and wide. It has served as a model for national constitutions and laws for many countries, including in the Pacific. Its provisions have supplied countless guidelines for national courts, parliaments, governments, lawyers and other professionals, and non-governmental organisations throughout the world. But, there remains a significant gap between the high principles of the Declaration on paper and the facts on the ground. Every day, hundreds of millions of people worldwide, including the Pacific, experience serious violations of their human rights.

10. In some parts of the world there has tended to be a focus on violations of civil and political rights even though economic and social rights are daily concerns of the people. As it is said in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights the "satisfaction of economic, social and cultural rights is a guarantee for the enjoyment of civil and political rights”. This is an aspect we in this region might bear in mind noting that in more recent times, the link between the rule of law, effective human rights protection and economic progress has been emphasised by the United Nations in connection, for example, with the achievement by member countries of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG/s). Achievements of the MDGs would seem to be a potential problem area for the Pacific in that there is no procedure in place for a human-rights assessment of MDG performance; and yet, it is clear from the language of the ‘tracking’ MDG reports that regionally and in many member countries of our region there are significant shortfalls with respect, for instance, to social protection, to the need to reduce persistent gender gaps and the needed improvements to governance standards and systems. It would seem to be a matter that might require attention in the next round of MDG assessments.

Rule of law

11. In all this the role of lawyers is fundamental, because they are the advocates and practitioners of the law, trained and versed, as they would be, in the technicalities and procedures of Government, of Parliament and the Courts and the justice system. The recognition of equality before the law in the Universal Declaration and the two International Covenants means that everyone has the right to effective remedy by competent national tribunals, to have full access to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, to exercise freely the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to assemble peacefully, to take part in the government of the country, and so on . Without the professional interventions of lawyers, and of other actors, the prospects for members of society in their exercise of rights would be illusory and the high principles of the Declaration and the Covenants would more likely remain sterile and unenforced.

12. Moreover, as emphasised in the Universal Declaration, “it is essential ... that human rights should be protected by the rule of law” . This means that for the proper enjoyment of rights and for their effective protection, human rights must be provided for and effectively protected by domestic legal systems. Part of the richness and strength of the European system and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights is the fact that every Member State accepts as legally binding the principle of the rule of law. In this respect as well, with the legal profession in every Pacific country having an established role in the national system of law and justice, Pacific lawyers have a natural place for leadership and engagement – and, as warranted, activism in the protection of human rights.

International human rights norms


13. As the practitioners lawyers would, of course, be expected to understand the national system of law and procedures. But, I would imagine that for some if not for many Pacific practitioners the situation with respect to international human rights law would be different and more complex. Even with the reaches of the Internet, part of the challenge would be access to information, for there is a great deal of material on a significant range of international Courts and tribunals, the Human Rights Council and various organs of the United Nations system and about treaties and other international instruments.

14. There is also the fact that with the adoption of the Universal Declaration the elaboration of human rights norms has proceeded more rapidly at the international level than under national laws. The main international instruments, along with the Declaration, are the two International Covenants. There are, in addition, numerous instruments which are more specific and detailed on certain rights, such as on the rights of the child , the elimination of discrimination on the basis of race and sex , the prohibition of torture and genocide , etc. In some cases, these are supplemented by regional treaties like the African Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights. Such treaties may affect domestic law more directly, but generally international and regional instruments do not automatically become effective in domestic legal systems.

Domestic application and ratification of international instruments

15. The domestic application of international norms in the national legal system has assumed importance, partly through the increasing engagement of Pacific countries with the affairs of the international community, mainly through the United Nations, and the need to discharge particular State obligations (in the struggle against global terrorism, or in the practical implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, for example). It is partly also because when a State signs and ratifies an international human rights treaty, the State is obliged to incorporate the treaty principles into domestic law. For example, the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights requires member States to “respect and to ensure” the rights of citizens and residents, to adopt necessary measures if not already provided for by domestic law and to provide remedies. Most treaties are not as specific and leave the implementation to the judgment of the national authorities.

16. We know from various reports and studies initiated and facilitated by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission that the ratification of international human rights treaties and the related implementation and reporting of obligations are significant concerns for the Pacific States. Indeed, unless there has been dramatic improvement in recent times, the Pacific region has been known to have the lowest ratification rates worldwide of the nine core international human rights treaties.

Regional mechanisms

17. In the consideration of international developments, necessary regard must be given to the condition and realities of our countries and to the framework of mechanisms now in place in the Pacific region. Human rights is not entirely new to the regional agenda. In a variety of ways we see the formulation of universal standards and norms in the constitutions and bills of right of Forum countries. And the possibility of a regional human rights institution has been turned over and over again, and no doubt we need to continue to do so.

18. As I have noted, we have a Pacific Vision for a peaceful, secure and prosperous region “so that all of its people can lead free and worthwhile lives.” It is a fine vision. And we have the declared determination and commitment of Forum Leaders to make the Pacific a region that is “respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values and for its defence and promotion of human rights.” What we need to ensure is to match vision and aspiration with serious effort to ensure credible results on the ground.

19. We need also to acknowledge that our region faces significant human rights issues, for example (to paraphrase from a report facilitated by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat) in relation to employment, freedom from discrimination, protection and equal treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS, violence against women and children, the right to health (including to water and housing), environmental degradation and associated climate change concerns, the rights of those detained and incidents related to tribal or land disputes .

20. In 2005, Forum Leaders agreed to give effect to their Pacific Vision through the “Pacific Plan for Strengthening Regional Cooperation and Integration” under the four pillars of economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security for the region. Human rights is included in the “good governance” pillar in the manner of an acknowledgement by Forum Leaders of the fundamental role of human rights in creating a conducive environment so that citizens of the Pacific are able to realise their full potential and constructively to contribute to the development of all Forum countries. Specifically, the Pacific Plan (initiative 12.5) calls for the “appropriate ratification and implementation of international and regional human rights conventions, covenants and agreements, and support for reporting and other requirements.” Furthermore, human rights are referenced throughout the Pacific Plan as complementing its strategic objectives for ensuring a stable environment for economic development based on equal opportunities for all regardless of ethnicity, background or religious convictions.

21. From another perspective, we have the Aitutaki Declaration on Regional Security adopted in 1997 by which Forum Leaders accepted the need for the region to take on a more comprehensive approach to regional security consistent with the United Nation’s Agenda for Peace. The Agenda for Peace highlights respect for democratic principles at all levels of society, and the importance of “democratisation” in nation states for stability, respect for human rights and the need to strengthen new democratic institutions to address conflict. The Aitutaki Declaration recognises “good governance” as a guiding principle for security cooperation in the region.

22. In the context of human rights, the Biketawa Declaration of 2000 would rank as one of the key statements in the elaboration of earlier Forum standards like those covered in the Aitutaki Declaration, and in the reaffirmation by Forum Leaders and their commitment to a number of guiding principles for the region, including the following:

• good governance in a manner that is open, transparent, accountable, participatory, consultative and decisive but fair and equitable;
• belief in the liberty of the individual under the law, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender, race, colour, creed or political belief and in the individual’s inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political process in framing the society in which he or she lives; and
• upholding democratic processes and institutions which reflect national and local circumstances, including the peaceful transfer of power, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government.

23. The quick summation of the regional instruments and political pronouncement of Forum Leaders is only a brief account. But I believe I would have provided enough to convey a sense of the Forum’s commitment to participatory and democratic values and the key importance of human rights. The principles and guidelines set for the region have developed gradually and over time, informed and influenced by national and regional standards, and certainly by international developments. While pursuit of democratic principles in each Forum country will differ, shaped by differing histories, unique cultures and diverse national expectations, a core commitment to democratic values is, I believe, now clearly evident from the Forum instruments and principles I have referred to. By these principles the Forum stands as the primary vehicle for promoting and protecting democratic norms and helping to foster democratic practices in the region.

Forum Secretariat support

24. In this connection, I am happy to report that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has established a desk for human rights to support Forum island countries with treaty ratification, reporting and implementation; and also to say that we are now seeking from the European Union and from others assistance to strengthen our capacities in this area. I am very pleased and proud that Mr Filipo Masaurua is now with the Secretariat to lead this important work.

25. We in the Secretariat do recognise that the capacity of legal institutions is fundamental to the ability of our Member countries to uphold and protect human rights. It is generally recognised that Forum island countries face significant challenges in resourcing their legal institutions, including the courts and tribunals. In light of region-wide concerns, the Forum Secretariat is about to embark on a study to examine the issues and causes in greater detail and with a view to ascertaining feasible options for improvements. The study will also examine legislative drafting services in the context of related issues such as the incorporation of international human rights norms into domestic law, and also the feasibility of, for example, regional approaches where such approaches might be appropriate. The study will involve wide consultation with public legal sector stakeholders and I would encourage your cooperation and engagement in this process, which we plan to commence early in 2011.
Some perspectives

26. It would seem to me that one of the basic difficulties is not so much the applicability or inapplicability of international human rights law, but rather the general unfamiliarity with its provision and how little is known of the international provisions in national systems – perhaps even in traditional legal training as it was in my own time.

27. I believe that members of the legal profession, including the judiciary, have a moral obligation to assist in the development of the community along with civil society groups based upon the rule of law; and, at the more practical level, lawyers and judges have a professional responsibility to maintain their educational and practical proficiency through regular professional programmes. I express to the RRRT and the organisers high commendation for this training workshop. I also understand that a Pacific Human Rights Lawyers Network has been established and I express appreciation for that initiative as well. We know that within the United Nations system Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers have been developed in line with the international human rights instruments. But, in truth, such principles would need to be translated into practical standards for their effective use in our region, including their support and recognition by member Governments.

28. While only forty-eight States adopted the Universal Declaration in 1948, it was reaffirmed by 171 States at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 when they declared “all human rights are universal, indivisible and inter-dependent and inter-related”. Within the United Nations, many more countries are now engaged. Yet, serious violations of human right occur constantly around the world, including in our region. It is a matter of public record that pursuant to the Bitekawa Declaration Forum Leaders have taken action to suspend the participation of a Forum member country for its failure to comply with Forum values and democratic principles, and that there are serious concerns about the infringements under the prolonged Public Emergency Regulations.

29. I have spoken of the growing awareness of the human rights dimensions in important international work being carried out especially under the global outreach of the Millennium Development Goals, and of the significant shortfalls in the record of performance from countries of our region. In the past two years Forum Leaders have given clear direction of the need to address the disparities on gender issues and for attention to sexual and gender based violence in particular. The Forum region has responded to address the inequalities which exist for persons affected by disabilities and who suffer from disabilities. But there is serious inadequacy and inability to correct the disproportionate under-representation of women in Parliament and in other senior decision-making levels of Pacific society. We need to do more to end racial discrimination in all its forms, to ratify international human rights treaties, to adopt national plans of human rights action and include human rights in national economic priority setting, to ensure human rights education for all and to establish national human rights institutions.


30. As I close, let me say that the way in which justice is administered in a society is one of the basic indicators of its well-being. It is why there is insistence in the Universal Declaration that human rights be protected by the rule of law. The universality of the rule of law and of fundamental human rights means that it is the sovereignty of the people, which is the true source of national power and legitimacy. Let me also say that I believe the role of lawyers is to ensure the functioning of the rule of law and the achievement of the purpose of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Thank you.

zoom out zoom in print this page