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His second reform program called for stronger links between international standards, international human rights machinery and UN activities undertaken at the country level. He encouraged more attention to human rights protection work while, at the same time, maintaining the UN's traditional commitment to human rights promotion, capacity and infrastructure building. In a statement summarising the outcome of the seminar, the Chairman, Mr Lee Sun-jin, observed:. Good governance needs to aim for justice. While the element of the rule of law is extremely important as part of good governance for the promotion of human rights, that element should not merely imply respect for the national law but rather for law which is consistent with the international human rights framework, with channels to promote justice.

The Roundtable was convened to consider the role of NHRIs in ensuring good governance and the promotion and protection of human rights. This body meets annually. It must be recognised that NHRIs are not the only form of national human rights mechanism. Such mechanisms may come in various shapes and sizes and may be established under the Parliament, Executive or Judiciary.

They may have mandates of varying widths and enjoy differing degrees of independence from government. Besides a NHRI, there could be a national advisory commission on human rights, a national anti-discrimination commission, or an ombudsman. Generally, however, these mechanisms have more retricted mandates than a NHRI. This topic is taken up later in this paper. The establishment of an NHRI is a matter for the legislature of each State and the structure of a particular institution will reflect that State's constitution, local laws and judicial and administrative system.

Many States have established a NHRI in order to comply with their obligations under international conventions to provide effective remedies for human rights violations. Interest in the promotion and protection of human rights in the Pacific region is not new. LawAsia undertook a major project in the late s to encourage the Pacific States to agree to adopt a Pacific Charter of Human Rights. The Human Rights Committee of LawAsia held a conference on the question in Fiji in April , following which a drafting committee was convened.

The work of the drafting committee was reviewed and considered at seminars conducted by LawAsia in , and The proposed treaty recognised wide-ranging rights, including all basic civil and political rights most of which are already contained in the constitutions of the Pacific States , as well as economic, social and cultural rights, and the rights of peoples including Indigenous peoples. The draft also included sets of duties for the government and individuals as members of society.

International Summer Course: Human Rights Law in Context

Finally, the draft proposed a Pacific Human Rights Commission which would supervise the Charter and deal with complaints about human rights violations. The treaty has not been adopted by the Pacific States. However, as I will mention later in this paper, it has recently been raised again for discussion. The Pacific Islands Forum PIF 40 has also repeatedly expressed a strong commitment to achieving regional co-operation on human rights and good governance.

At their annual meeting in , the Pacific Islands Forum leaders agreed to carry out a review of the Forum and its Secretariat. An Eminent Persons' Group 41 was established to review the forum. It was tasked with providing a fresh mandate and vision for the Pacific Islands Forum and an improved capacity within the Forum to enable it to provide leadership on regional co-operation and integration.

The forum should report the work of members in developing national human rights machinery. As part of this process, those leaders whose governments are not already engaged with the Asia Pacific Human Rights Forum [sic - APF], might consider becoming so. In April , the Forum Leaders adopted the "Auckland Declaration", in which they endorsed the recommendations of the Eminent Persons' Group, including the recommendation regarding the establishment of human rights machinery and noted that this may be done in consultation with the APF.

There were over 80 participants in all. In the Concluding Statement the participants reaffirmed that: To that end the participants welcomed the decision of the Pacific Island Leaders to encourage the development of national human rights machinery with the possible engagement of the APF and the support of the OHCHR and other UN agencies. In the course of the Consultation, many participants stressed the importance of understanding the Pacific as a region distinct from Asia.

Law, Infrastructure and Human Rights

Participants expressed the view that customary law should not take precedence over international human rights law but that human rights programs and rights-based interventions must be delivered in a culturally appropriate manner. The participants recommended that for each real or perceived conflict between culture and rights, careful analysis, wide consultation and an inclusive national decision-making process should be undertaken.

It requested the appointment of an OHCHR human rights adviser to provide full-time technical co-operation and needs assessment, as well as to assist Pacific States to address and provide effective responses to human rights problems. The selection process for the representative has concluded and it is anticipated that the office will open in mid The Justice and Foreign Affairs Ministries were to be the principle participants. The Outcome Statement records that the workshop identified a range of challenges facing Forum countries in the promotion and protection of human rights.

These include:. The workshop recognised that the primary responsibility for promoting, protecting and monitoring human rights at the national level lies with national governments. It also identified a number of issues that need to be considered by governments if they are planning to establish national human rights machinery including:.

The Outcome Statement is notable for its failure to make any express reference to the pivotal role of the judiciary and the legal profession which supports it. It is respectfully suggested that this is a serious omission. The judiciary and the legal profession fulfil important roles in standard setting, in detecting and remedying human rights violations and in promoting understanding about the content and importance of human rights and about the community's responsibility to respect them.


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The judiciary and the legal profession must be active in these matters and must engage with the good governance debate which is occurring. The following comments are intended to raise issues which seem to require further discussion.


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  4. I do not attempt to offer definitive solutions. It will be evident from this paper that both UN agencies and the Suva Consultation urge Pacific Island States to accede to all the major human rights conventions. These exhortations need to recognise that the Island States, generally speaking, have comprehensive fundamental human rights provisions already embedded in their constitutions which, at a domestic level, are likely to provide similar protection to that which would follow from accession to international treaties.

    As the Outcome Statement of the Nadi Regional Workshop recognised, there are resource implications which would arise in implementing State obligations under the Conventions and in meeting the reporting obligations. There would also be resource implications in establishing an NHRI. However, before a NHRI is dismissed from consideration on economic grounds, or on the basis that there are other institutions, such as an ombudsman, which fulfil similar functions, detailed consideration of the benefits of a well-resourced NHRI is necessary. If, however, a State is considering establishing an alternative form of human rights mechanism, it is critical that it provides individuals with the ability to seek redress for violations of human rights by private individuals and entities.

    As the Outcomes Statement of the Nadi Workshop recognised, a substantial obstacle in the development of human rights in the Pacific is the lack of understanding of human rights principles and their relevance. This is already a problem facing the constitutionally enshrined rights in Pacific States.

    Litigation to enforce human rights, the reasons for judgments, publication of the judgments and media coverage of the case are all powerful educative tools that assist in improving understanding of human rights principles in the community. Whatever human rights mechanisms are adopted, there must be a heavy emphasis on education and promotion.

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    In this respect, the role of civil society organisations NGOs is important and their role should be formally recognised. A criticism of many good governance programs is that they address the "supply side" and do not give adequate consideration to the needs of citizens whose "demand" they should be answering. Consequently, development programs tend to reflect a "top-down" approach to administrative reform and restructuring and do not prioritise the needs and concerns of the poor and marginalised.

    This approach detracts from the sense of ownership and participation that communities should feel for development programs. Since civil society organisations are generally established to promote the interests of the common citizen, they are better suited at planning and delivering "bottom up" programs, including the delivery of human rights information. However comprehensive the law and the breadth of the mandate of human rights mechanisms, rights can only be enjoyed when there is a realistic means of investigation and enforcement.

    A strong, independent legal profession is important to this process. Effective, well resourced offices for the Public Solicitor and the Public Prosecutor are critical to the efficient functioning of the legal system and to the rule of law in general. Strengthening the capacity of the judiciary and the legal aid system should be a high priority on national budget agendas. The relationship between customary law and international human rights standards continues to be contentious. A simple solution to the problem, sometimes suggested, would be to accept that international human rights law can be modified to suit local traditions.

    Conventions make provision for the right of everyone to take part in cultural life 49 and for minority groups to enjoy their own culture in community with other members of their group.

    Rigging the System

    Moreover, many fundamental rights are already enshrined in the constitutions of Pacific States and those rights, as a matter of domestic law, cannot be modified without lawful constitutional amendment. Much of this debate centres on the rights of women and children. Those groups comprise a substantial part, if not a majority, of each community. In all cases where interviewees asked to not be named or Human Rights Watch assessed that naming them would jeopardize their security or their ability to operate in Syria, Human Rights Watch has not named them or provided identifying information.

    The Syrian conflict started in as a peaceful political uprising. However, within months the uprising turned into an armed conflict that continues in and has been characterized by a range of human rights and humanitarian law abuses.

    These have included mass arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate attacks, the use of prohibited weapons, and the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Map showing an assessment by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of the number of people in need in Syria, and severity of needs, based on data compiled for the Humanitarian Needs Overview.

    Much of the destroyed infrastructure is civilian and under international law should not have been targeted by parties to the conflict unless used for military purposes. However, as Human Rights Watch and others have documented, the Syrian government, supported by its allies, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, conducted hundreds of indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals often without any military objectives in the vicinity of the strike sites or with disproportionate impact on civilians.

    The landscape of the conflict changed drastically in , with the Syrian government retaking much of the territory that had been held by anti-government armed groups. By early the government was in control of the majority of territory in the country. Over the course of active hostilities decreased and economic relations between the Syrian government and countries in the region began to normalize, for example with the opening of the Nassib border crossing between Jordan and Syria and the reopening of trade between the United Arab Emirates and Syria. Simultaneously, Russia began lobbying Western states, and others, to support the return of refugees by providing funding for reconstruction.

    As of December , Human Rights Watch had identified at least 60 firms that had expressed an interest in participating in reconstruction in Syria, particularly in the construction, oil and energy, telecommunications, and water sanitation sectors. Of these, 43 are Iranian, Lebanese, and Russian public and private companies. German, French, and Belgian private companies have also expressed an interest. Reconstruction refers to the medium- and long-term rebuilding and sustainable restoration of resilient critical infrastructures, services, housing, facilities, and livelihoods required for the full functioning of a community or a society.

    When Human Rights Watch refers to reconstruction in this report, we are referring to any project that aims to rebuild or rehabilitate parts of Syria that have been destroyed.


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    This includes construction of residential homes, rehabilitation of key infrastructure including electricity grids, water pumps and sanitation systems, schools, hospitals, prisons, and local administration buildings including courts, police stations, and land cadastral buildings. It also includes the removal of rubble. Such a project may be clearly labeled as reconstruction or undertaken under a humanitarian or development umbrella, labeled or characterized as an early recovery, rehabilitation, or stabilization project. In many ways, the humanitarian response in Syria since the start of the conflict has been one of the largest in history, and in fact, has constituted one of the main sources of revenue for the Syrian economy.

    In the absence of large-scale reconstruction projects, some reconstruction and rehabilitation projects are happening through humanitarian and development programming, and with the involvement of international humanitarian organizations and development agencies.