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Standing alongside human rights defenders

Graphic: Human rights defenders

A key theme at the APF’s 20th Annual Meeting will be the role of national human rights institutions to protect human rights defenders.

The role of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) to protect human rights defenders and to support NHRIs facing threats will be the focus of discussions at the APF's 20th Annual Meeting, involving APF members and civil society organisations from across the region.

Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and Secretary-General of the NHRI of France, will provide a presentation, drawing on recent incidents that have taken place in different parts of the Asia Pacific.

In the past year, for example, the NHRIs of the Maldives and Australia have faced reprisals and political attacks for undertaking work in accordance with their mandates.

Mr Forst last month joined with the UN Special Rapportueur on the independence of judges and lawyers to express serious concern at the verdict of the Supreme Court of the Maldives, describing it as "an attempt to strip the Human Rights Commission of its independence de jure and de facto".

Across the region, the situation facing many individual human rights defenders continues to be grave.

In his report to the Human Rights Council earlier this year, Mr Forst noted that 35% of the communications sent by the UN Special Rapporteur between 1 December 2013 and 30 November 2014 were to governments in the Asia Pacific region.

Of the 231 communications (128 urgent appeals and 103 letters of allegation) sent to 84 States, 80 communications were sent to countries in the Asia-Pacific region; 47 to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean (20 per cent); 37 to the Middle East and North African region (16 per cent); 39 to countries in Europe, North America and Central Asia (17 per cent); and 26 to countries in Africa (11 per cent).

Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the International Service for Human Rights described the environment for human rights defenders in the region as "problematic and worsening", in particular the "the use of laws to restrict and criminalise the work of human rights defenders".

In an interview with the APF, he said there is a range of things that NHRIs can do to support human rights defenders, including advocating for a safe and enabling environment in which they can operate and building community understanding about the vital work they do.

"We would also encourage all NHRIs to establish human rights defender protection desks or focal points within their institutions," he added.

The APF's Third Biennial Conference, which will follow the Annual Meeting, will explore the role of NHRIs to prevent torture and protect the rights and dignity of people held in places of detention.

To be hosted by the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia, the conference will feature presentations from leading speakers and selected APF Torture Prevention Ambassadors, who will describe the innovative projects that they are undertaking in their countries

Around 150 representatives from NHRIs, governments, civil society organisations and UN agencies from across the Asia Pacific will attend the Conference, which will be held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on 28 August 2015.

The event is one of the largest regular human rights gatherings in the region.

The APF's 20th Annual Meeting will be held prior to the conference, on 26-27 August 2015, and involve representatives from all 22 member institutions.

Image credits

  1. Human rights defenders - National Human Rights Commission of Nepal