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Vanuatu expresses support for human rights body

Graphic: Participants in the Vanuatu consultations

Representatives from community and government bodies in Vanuatu have provided strong support for the idea of establishing an independent NHRI.

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Representatives from community organisations and from government have provided strong support for the idea of establishing an independent national human rights institution (NHRI) for Vanuatu.

Consultations were held in the capital Port Vila from 14-19 July 2019, following an invitation from the Government of Vanuatu for the APF, the Pacific Community's Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) and the Melanesian Spearhead Group to conduct a scoping visit.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was also invited but was unable to participate at that time.

Participants expressed their desire for a "home grown" institution that was able to genuinely address the human rights issues facing everyday people, especially in the remote parts of the country.

Sunset, Port Vila, Vanuatu

Vanuatu is a country of 300,000 people, spread across 83 islands and almost 1,300kms in the South Pacific.

The Republic of Vanuatu was founded in 1980. Since independence, the country has become a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and the Pacific Islands Forum.

Many also noted that, to be effective and credible, the NHRI should have a broad legal mandate, be truly independent and be given sufficient resources to do its work.

Government and civil society participants both said the NHRI could play an important role to build community understanding of human rights, especially the ways in which human rights can strengthen traditional culture and values.

In addition, Vanuatu's Chief Justice welcomed the idea of an NHRI that could intervene or act as amicus curiae ("friend of the court") in cases that raised human rights issues.

Graphic: The scoping visit team meet with the Chief Justice of Vanuatu

A report of the consultations – describing the key issues raised and setting out options for establishing an NHRI – will be provided for the Government to consider. It also recommends that further consultations be undertaken across all six provinces.

One possible model for establishing an NHRI is to expand the mandate of the Ombudsman to include responsibility for promoting and protecting human rights.

"This approach has been very effective in Samoa," APF Special Envoy Rosslyn Noonan said.

"It was also the model used by Tuvalu when it established an NHRI in 2017."

Ms Noonan said the consultations on establishing an NHRI in Vanuatu built on an earlier scoping visit to the country in 2011.

They also followed recommendations made to the Government of Vanuatu by the UN Human Rights Council, as part of its Universal Periodic Review in January 2019.

The APF and RRRT conducted a similar scoping visit with the Federated States of Micronesia in May 2019 and will visit Kiribati in September 2019.

Date: 20 August 2019

Image credits

  1. Participants in the Vanuatu consultations - Romulo Nayacalevu/Melanesian Spearhead Group
  2. Sunset, Port Vila, Vanuatu - Phil Botha on Unsplash
  3. The scoping visit team meet with the Chief Justice of Vanuatu - Romulo Nayacalevu/Melanesian Spearhead Group