Growing regional interest in human rights legislation

Pacific nations are demanding more support to develop their human rights and child rights legislation, the Regional Rights Resources Team (R.R.R.T.) Director has said, evidenced by their nearly 60 per cent growth in just a few years. 

Miles Young, Director of the R.R.R.T, which is part of the Pacific Community (S.P.C.) said a serious jump in staff over the last decade shows the region wants and needs the skills and resources they offer.

“If you look at the number of staff at R.R.R.T. when I joined in April 2012, we had 24 staff. Now we have 38. To me, that is a reflection of the growing interest in the Pacific in the area of human rights.

“Perhaps it’s a reflection of the growing expertise that R.R.R.T. delivers, so there is a demand for our work.”

The unit, which offers specialised skills on human rights law, capacity development and technical assistance to the region’s nations, was formed in 1995.

Mr. Young said its work is focused on sustainable development – helping countries improve themselves by improving life for all their people.

It helps countries with their compulsory reporting to the United Nations treaty bodies, like the Convention on the Rights of the Child currently reviewing three periodic reports by Tuvalu, the Cook Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Over the years since they each ratified the different treaties, Pacific countries have had to get better at not only the reporting on their human rights records, but also begin doing the hard work of acting on recommendations the various committees have made.

“In the time I have been in this role I can see the requests are getting more sophisticated, more complex,” he said. 

“Pacific Island countries are increasingly meeting their reporting requirements, they are reporting on time and they are moving beyond reporting and looking at implementing the recommendations. 

“That is when the complication arises. Recommendations can require them to amend legislation, to put in place new policies, and these are things that require resources, not just financial but human capacity as well.”

During reviews, countries can receive dozens, or even over 100 recommendations to improve on.

Then once the work of changing the law is done, countries have to start making sure those laws are followed, and that real change happens for those who need it.

“The law is just a piece of paper,” Mr. Young said.

“So how do we give it life, how do we achieve what we want to achieve?”

One piece of work R.R.R.T. did to help was set up a working group of 11 Pacific countries to help each other develop their domestic violence and social protection policies, including Samoa.

There are countries with long established legislation, and others with brand new policies only just being passed. The idea is for them to help each other improve, Mr. Young said. 

The unit is also helping countries establish National Human Rights Institutions, of which there are currently three in the region, as well as develop tracking tools to keep a close eye on the many recommendations countries are given.

“So of these 150 recommendations, how do we cluster them better, how do we respond to them better, how do we monitor that we are implementing these recommendations,” he explained.  

Further to that, the treaty bodies are learning they need to help their member states achieve their desired outcomes by working more closely with them, and delivering recommendations in easily understandable ways.

Coming to the region to conduct the periodic review is part of that effort, to better understand the context and challenges of the Pacific, and more clearly realising the barriers they face in reporting, and implementing those myriad recommendations. 

“I think the main thing is to learn from experience and move on and improve things.   I think there is a genuine attempt by the treaty bodies to improve,” Mr. Young said. 

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