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Forum aims to strengthen human rights in the Pacific

Commission – General
A large group of people, representing nations across the Pacific, stand and pose for the camera at the Pacific Regional Forum.

The Commission joined an important conversation about establishing and strengthening National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) across the Pacific region.

Australian Human Rights Commission Chief Executive Leanne Smith and Director of Projects and Partnerships Diana Baker participated in the 2023 Pacific Regional Forum on National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) from 21-22 February in Fiji.

The Forum was organised jointly by the Pacific Community and the Asia Pacific Forum, and it was the first time representatives from 14 of the 16 Member States comprising the Pacific Island Forum met to discuss the formation and operation of NHRIs in the region.

Ms Smith said: "This was a fantastic opportunity to learn from our Pacific cousins about how Pacific culture interacts with universal human rights and to share experiences, opportunities and challenges.”

NHRI Commissioners, Ombudspersons, Ministers and senior officials from Ministries of Justice explored the progress the Pacific region has made, shared experiences, and identified strategies for establishing and maintaining the independence of NHRIs.

Ms Smith shared Australia’s recent experience of Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) accreditation.

“Large or small, all NHRIs face challenges when it comes to getting adequate resources, and maintaining credible and independent institutions,” she said.

“The Forum also discussed the role of NHRIs in promoting human rights and climate change, and the relationship between human rights, Pacific culture and faith-based values.”

Forum participants produced an outcomes document, agreeing on the importance and value of six actions, including developing accessible country-level pathways to establishing and strengthening NHRIs.

“We will take what we have learned through this engagement and explore pathways to take our human rights cooperation forward in the Pacific – through the Asia Pacific Forum, the SPC and bilateral cooperation,” said Ms Smith.

The Forum follows the 2022 endorsement of the Pacific Regional 2050 Strategy. The plan envisions the Blue Pacific Continent in 2050 as “a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and increased prosperity so that all Pacific people are leading free, healthy and productive lives”.

What is a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI)?

NHRIs are established by the State, with a mandate to promote and protect human rights in their country.

They operate independently from the State and from the government. They monitor and report on the human rights situation in their country and investigate human rights violations.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is one of the oldest NHRIs in the Asia Pacific region.