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UN official calls 2011 ‘significant year’ of achievement

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Pacific Scoop, Dec13, 2011) – The United Nations regional human rights chief has hailed 2011 as a "significant year" for Pacific achievements with all outstanding national reviews being completed." It has been an excellent stocktaking exercise for the region and will now act as an important baseline from which to evaluate future progress over the next four years," said Matilda Bogner, Regional Representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNDP, UNIFEM, UNFPA and UNICEF. It contains the most recent UN Treaty Bodies OHCHR’s Pacific Office in Suva.

Saturday 10 December marked International Human Rights Day.

Sixty three years ago the international community, through the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the founding document for all human rights.

Over the next week, OHCHR Pacific will release a series of op-eds articles detailing the human rights situations in 2011 of some Pacific nations such as Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Bogner said 2011 saw:

During the UPR process in 2011, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Solomon Islands committed to establishing national human rights institutions, combating violence against women, taking measures to prohibit corporal punishment, enacting legislation to protect children from child labour and sexual exploitation, and ratifying "core human rights treaties".

"The establishment of national human rights institutions will be central to the protection of human rights in these countries. They will support monitoring, documenting and redress of concerning situations on the ground," Bogner said.

"It will also be important that civil society has the capacity and means to monitor the implementation of these commitments by governments and will be able to assist in holding them to account."

Bogner said that 2011 saw many Pacific Island countries support Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for measures to counter discrimination and violence against those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.

In March, Australia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu signed onto a joint statement of over 80 countries at the UN Human Rights Council condemning violence based on sexual orientation.

"The statement expressed concern at the continuing violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including killings, rape, torture and criminal sanctions," Bogner said.

Palau and Nauru accepted recommendations to decriminalise homosexual acts during their appearances before the UPR, while Samoa (despite having supported an earlier joint statement), Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea rejected recommendations relating to the decriminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex – citing cultural or religious grounds.

Tonga is the first Pacific Island country to come up for review in the second round of the UPR and next year is due to submit a report on progress made since its first review in 2008.

Bogner noted while the ratification of CEDAW was still pending in Tonga, there have been positive signs and discussions on this front.

She said her office was ready to support Tonga in the ratification of the Convention against Torture and its work on torture prevention.

"Tonga is approaching its second appearance before the UPR, where it will need to report on progress achieved on the recommendations. It would be important to see Tonga progress its commitments to ratify core human rights treaties," Bogner said.

2011 also saw a number of visits to the region by the Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures mechanisms, independent experts who examine a range of thematic areas of human rights.

The Independent Expert on foreign debt visited Australia and Solomon Islands, and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, visited Australia.

In terms of future visits, 2011 saw acceptance by the Marshall Islands to a visit by the Independent Expert on toxic waste, acceptance by Kiribati to a visit by the Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation, and acceptance by the Solomon Islands to a visit by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

Bogner said these visits were an opportunity for national level actors to voice concerns and bring issues to the attention of the international community.

"Each visit provides for an examination of human rights issues on particular thematic areas in a country. The resulting report is presented to the Human Rights Council and, at times, to the UN General Assembly," she said.

Country visits, which generate significant media coverage locally and internationally, can only occur at the invitation of the host country.

"All in all 2011 has seen some encouraging developments in terms of human rights in the Pacific and I trust that the future will see Pacific countries work further towards ensuring the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms for their people," Bogner said.

"The UPR has provided a good framework for joint national, regional and international efforts to improve human rights and support the commitments countries have made."

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