SG's remarks, Commonwealth workshop on human rights
to the Commonwealth Pacific Regional Workshop on the Ratification and
Implementation of International and Regional Human Rights Instruments
under the Pacific Plan
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea 28-30 March 2007

Greetings to you all. I apologise that due to prior commitments I cannot be present but I thank you all for coming here to represent your countries’ interest in this very important workshop to help us understand better how we can all work together to increase the region’s ratification of international human rights instruments under the Pacific Plan.

2. The Pacific Plan – our Pacific Plan was the result of extensive consultations held around this region, and was adopted by our Leaders at their meeting in 2005. The Pacific Plan encompasses a vision by Forum Leaders for 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.” To help us realise this vision the Plan has four over arching thematic objectives or programmes of action – the promotion of economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security. I hope by now, you are familiar with the Pacific Plan and most if not all of you have been involved, to varying degrees, in different activities under it.

3. This workshop is convened under the Good Governance pillar of the Pacific Plan – more specifically Initiative 12.5 of the Kalibobo Roadmap, which reads “Where appropriate, ratify and implement international and regional human rights conventions, covenants and agreements and support reporting and other requirements.” Human rights were given further emphasis last year in Nadi, when Forum Leaders agreed that greater attention should be given to implementing international conventions on human rights as an essential tool to underpin improvements in institutional governance.

4. I am pleased to advise that work in the region has already commenced on realising the goals of Initiative 12.5. Late last year the New Zealand Law Reform Commission published a paper on reconciling custom and human rights in the Pacific. In a few months time, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission will publish its paper on forms of national human rights institutions for small Pacific states and the UN OHCHR will publish its paper on the added value of ratification for Pacific states. These three important pieces of work, all of which are the result of regional consultations, will help set the stage for and contribute to the advancement and enhancement of human rights in the region.

5. The Pacific region has the lowest ratification rates of international human rights instruments in the world. A large part of this has to do with the perceived incompatibility of human rights and custom. Human rights are often referred to as individual rights – a concept that runs contrary to the inherently communal nature of all our cultures in this region. However, I don’t believe human rights and pacific cultures are different. There are countless similarities between the so-called western human rights tenets and how we live our daily lives within our respective cultural contexts. The primary nexus I think would be our inherent respect, across the region, for not just life, but for the inborn dignity of the person – two integral and defining characteristics of the United Nations Charter. From this basic commonality I believe, we can find more overlaps between Pacific customs and human rights.

6. Unfortunately due to resource constraints, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat cannot do as much as it would like to in helping our members ratify and keep up with reporting requirements of international human rights instruments. I therefore take this opportunity to thank the Commonwealth Secretariat for its recognition of the importance of the Pacific Plan to our region, and its willingness to work in partnership with us to help us realise our goals as expressed therein. Thanks should also be extended toward the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for its work in assisting Pacific Island Forum countries with their ratification of international human rights instruments as well as their reporting and implementation requirements.

7. I note that there will be time during the meeting for you to share your country’s experiences. I note also that the Commonwealth Secretariat has arranged for experts to talk to you about the technical processes involved in ratifying international instruments and complying with reporting requirements. I urge you all to utilise this opportunity to share your thoughts and experiences and perhaps more importantly, the difficulties your countries face, with ratifying international instruments.

8. It is our intention to glean from this workshop, ways in which we, the Forum Secretariat, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations can work in partnership with you and each other to raise awareness, compliance and promotion of human rights in the region.

I wish you all a fruitful and enjoyable meeting.

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