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Parliamentarians pledge backing for human rights

Graphic: Vanuatu's Prime Minister addresses parliamentarians from across the Pacific

Legislators from across the Pacific have endorsed the role of national human rights institutions in helping build strong and inclusive communities.

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Legislators from across the Pacific have endorsed the important role of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in helping build strong, fair and just communities.

Meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, parliamentarians from the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu also reflected on the practical measures they can take to strengthen human rights protections as elected officials.

Discussions during the three-day dialogue considered their role to scrutinise legislation that comes before parliament, allocate sufficient budget for human rights activities, be advocates for human rights in their communities and contribute to UN treaty body reporting processes.

"The work of parliamentarians is heavily concerned with upholding many fundamental rights, like ensuring people can enjoy decent heath care, get an education and live free from violence," said Thuy Doan Smith, who represented the APF as a co-facilitator at the dialogue.

"Just as pressing is the need to address the growing impact of climate change, which threatens the basic human rights of so many people in the Pacific," she said.

Graphic: Full group discussions at the dialogue

At the conclusion of the dialogue, participants adopted the Port Vila Declaration on Human Rights, Good Governance and Sustainable Development.

Among other things, the Port Vila Declaration recognises that:

  • Human rights, good governance and sustainable development can be achieved at the same time as embracing culture and faiths
  • NHRIs bring evidence-based information to parliament, which should inform legislative decision making processes and policy scrutiny
  • Culture, faiths and human rights work together to promote recognition of human dignity and legislation should be developed to support this
  • National human rights mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up should be supported and strengthened by the parliament.

The Port Vila Declaration also includes a call for all political leaders in the Pacific "to stand together and fight climate change".

"We recognise the need to depoliticise climate change by addressing it as a human rights issue and further recognise that it is a justice issue at the national, regional and international levels," the Declaration said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described climate change as one of the greatest threats facing humanity, with implications for all our human rights.

"Storms are rising and tides could submerge entire island nations and coastal cities. Fires rage through our forests, and the ice is melting. We are burning up our future – literally," Ms Bachelet told the Human Rights Council.

Here is what she is calling on national human rights institutions to do in response.

The Hon. Phillip Reklai, Senator from Palau, said the Port Vila Declaration offers important guidelines for legislators on their responsibilities to embed human rights within national laws and policies.

"As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Maritime and Climate Change, I am proud to attend this dialogue and reassert our commitment to battling climate change and protecting human rights," he said.

"Together we can work with the rest of the world to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals are reached and the fairer and more equitable world we all desire becomes a reality."

The Pacific Parliamentarians Dialogue on Human Rights, Good Governance and Development, held from 5-7 November 2019, was organised by the Pacific Community's Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) and supported by the UK-funded Pacific Commonwealth Equality Project, with programme funding from the governments of Australia and Sweden.

Date: 21 November 2019

Image credits

  1. Vanuatu's Prime Minister addresses parliamentarians from across the Pacific - RRRT
  2. Full group discussions at the dialogue - RRRT