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ANNI: Outcome statement of the Regional Conference on the Engagement with the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF)

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1st Biennial Conference of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions 7‐8 September 2011, Bangkok, Thailand

1. This statement is the outcome of the ANNI Regional Conference on the Engagement with the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) held on 5-6 September 2011, in parallel to the 1st Biennial Conference of the APF. The Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) welcomes the opportunity to address this statement at the APF Conference.

2. ANNI welcomes the continuous efforts of the APF to engage with ANNI and its member organizations, including the participation of an APF Secretariat representative at its 4th Regional Consultation which was held on 21-22 February 2011 in Goa, India. ANNI also appreciates the subsequent uploading of the 2011ANNI Action Points, the outcome document from the Consultation, on the APF website. ANNI further notes that the APF has engaged with some of our member organizations and provided inputs and guidance which have been appreciated and constructive. As a partner with the common mandate of establishment and development of independent, effective, transparent and accountable national human rights institutions(NHRIs) in the Asian region, ANNI hopes that our cooperation with the APF will continue to develop in strategic areas of engagement over the coming years.

3. ANNI welcomes the efforts of the NHRIs from ASEAN member States (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand) in their engagement in drafting the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

4. ANNI expresses its support and solidarity with human rights defenders (HRDs) in the West Asia, Arab and North Africa countries, and is inspired by the struggles and sacrifices of the peoples of the region in the movements for democratization.

5. ANNI welcomes the APF’s financial support to five NHRIs to assist their implementation of the Advisory Council of Jurists (ACJ) Reference on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) and the subsequent review of the implementation status. However, ANNI notes that SOGI is only the latest of several references by the ACJ, and believes the implementation of other references should also be periodically reviewed and monitored to further enhance the capacity of NHRIs to promote and protect human rights in the region.

6. ANNI continues to urge the APF and its member institutions to work more proactively on the protection and the rights of human rights defenders (HRDs). ANNI notes that there are at least six NHRIs in the region‐ India, South Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka ‐ which have a designated desk or focal person for HRDs. For example, ANNI appreciates the NHRC of India’s appointment of a focal person for HRDs in 2010 and subsequent information posted on its website regarding the status of complaints submitted to the NHRC of India by HRDs in the country. However, ANNI also notes that these desks or focal persons for HRDs within NHRIs in many countries still require further strengthening and need to be reinforced by the Members of Commissions to effectively address the broader problem of ensuring the rights of HRDs.

7. ANNI expresses its alarm over the serious human rights situation in Iran where the Islamic Human Rights Commission has failed to protect human rights defenders in the country. The ANNI is especially concerned about the threats and reprisals experienced by its member organizations in Iran, and those HRDs and lawyers who have been prosecuted and sentenced to long‐term imprisonment. Sedigh Kaboudvan, president of the Human Rights Organization in Kurdistan, who was sentenced to an 11‐year prison term for establishing a human rights organization and communicating with UN human rights mechanisms, iscurrently serving his prison term while suffering from serious health problems; Nasrin Sotudeh, a woman human rights defender and lawyer working with the Human Rights Defenders Center (HRDC), an ANNI member organisation, was arbitrarily arrested on 9 January 2010 and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment and a ban of 20 years from practicing law after serving her prison term; Ahmad Seyfzadeh, the co-founder of  HRDC was arrested on 11 April 2011 and sentenced to a two‐year prison term because of his defense ofpolitical and civil rights activists; the General Secretary, Ahmad Zeydabadi, Spokesperson, Abdolah Momeni, head of the Human Rights Committee, Hasan Asadi Zaydabadi, and many others from the Steering Committee of the Advar Organization were arrested after the disputed general elections in June 2009 and sentenced to long prison terms. The Human Rights Defenders Center, of which Shirin Ebadi, the NobelPeace prize laureate is president, was also shut down in December 2008.

8. ANNI has been disturbed by the crisis of independence and effectiveness within the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). ANNI notes that in the past the Commission had been considered as a positive example for other NHRIs in the region. To underline its continuing concern, ANNI conducted a solidarity mission from 11-12 May 2011 to the NHRCK in Seoul, South Korea. Upon the conclusion of the mission, the ANNI delegation re-affirmed its grave concern over the controversies enveloping the NHRCK and the implications for the integrity and reputation of the Commission, both nationally and internationally,as well as the general protection and promotion of human rights in South Korea.

9. ANNI has called on the APF to work with parliamentarians and governments in countries where there are no NHRIs to establish NHRIs. ANNI appreciates the APF’s invitation to parliamentarians from countries without NHRIs to the biennial conference of the APF, including those suggested by ANNI and its member organizations. However, ANNI notes that there has been a lack of understanding by some parliamentarians and governments regarding the significance of establishing NHRIs in full compliance with the ParisPrinciples.

10. ANNI had the occasion to review the historic Kandy Program of Action 1999 (KPA) as part of its deliberations and found that both the APF and the ICC-NHRIs have done a great deal in ensuring greater participation of civil society organisations in strategic areas of engagement, such as training and the accreditation process of NHRIs. However this is only a beginning and there is more ground to be covered to further implement the KPA. There are some areas of concern and some recommendations which have not been implemented at all such as the temporary attachments of personnel between NHRIs and NGOs, coordination between NHRIs and NGOs in the ratification of human rights instruments, reluctance of NHRIs to engage in sensitive areas of human rights and the systemic relations with Legislatures and Parliament to ensure meaningful engagement in the protection and promotion of human rights.

11. ANNI therefore feels that it is time that to move towards a ‘KPA Plus Program’ (KPP) that concentrates o nfurthering cooperation between NHRIs and NGOs in:

i. Ensuring in-country mandatory consultations that are made available in the public domain before an NHRI reports on human rights issues in the country at the regional or international arenas;

ii. The already-indicated areas of better co‐operation with Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (Berlin International Round Table 2006. The Dublin Statement 2009 and the Marrakech Statement of 2010, the discussion paper of the OHCHR of June 2007 on interaction between NHRIs and SPs);

iii. The creation of a permanent institutionalized mechanism for co-operation between civil society, HRDs and NHRIs at the national, sub-regional and regional levels duly constituted in a democratic and transparent manner with their own rules of procedures which are made public;iv. Ensuring a ‘public disclosure policy’ between NHRIs and civil society in which the standards of the ICC-NHRIs General Observations are placed by individual APF members in the public domain in their respective countries to promote better co‐operation between ICC-NHRIs, NHRIs and civil society.

12. Accordingly, ANNI proposes the following recommendations to the APF and its member institutions:

i. ANNI encourages further engagement of the NHRIs with AICHR. The expertise and experience of NHRIs in dealing with human rights situations on the ground can strengthen the institutional building of the ASEAN human rights mechanisms (including the AICHR and the ASEAN Commission on the Protection and Promotion of the rights of Women and Children).

ii. ANNI urges the APF to undertake a periodic review of the implementing status of ACJ reference and to establish a monitoring mechanism in this regard while engaging members of ANNI in the respective countries in the process.

iii. ANNI urges the APF and its member institutions to continue to pay serious heed to the promotion and protection of the rights of HRDs working on the ground. In those NHRIs with an existing desk or focal person for HRDs, their composition should include Members of the Commission, their capacity mustbe strengthened so that a systematic functioning mechanism is established and effective assistance is provided to these defenders working on the ground. To those NHRIs without a dedicated desk or focal person for HRDs, ANNI urges the APF to urgently advocate for its establishment. As the primary protection mechanism for the HRDs at national level, it is crucial for NHRIs to promote and protect rights of these defenders working on the ground.

iv. ANNI calls for the development of strategic partnership between NHRIs, especially the South East Asia NHRIs Forum (SEANF), with civil society in Southeast Asia in strengthening the ASEAN human rights mechanism.

v. ANNI urges concrete and time‐bound measures to re‐establish the independence and effectiveness of the NHRCK through measures that may include amendment of Article 18 of the National Human Rights Commission Act that governs organisational restructuring of the Commission. We also urge the NHRCK to respond to human rights violations in a timely manner and through public statements, in line with international human rights norms and standards. Furthermore, the ANNI urges the entrenchment of democratic and participatory practices within the NHRCK through structured and informed consultation with all Commissioners and staff, and full transparency of decision‐making processes.Finally, ANNI urges the NHRCK to guarantee the rights of its own staff, including their freedom of association, assembly and expression.

vi. ANNI urges the APF to continue to work with parliamentarians, governments and civil society in countries without NHRIs and include them in the meetings of the APF so that they can be exposed to other models in the region and learn to appreciate the significance of establishing an NHRI which is in accordance with the Paris Principles for the promotion and protection of human rights in their country.

vii. ANNI urges the APF to publish training manuals on the major human rights issues in the region, other than the manual on migrant workers which APF is working on now. We suggest the manual on human rights investigations prepared by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines be made available to all APF and ANNI members, registering the major difference between criminal investigations and human rights investigations. We call upon the APF to cooperate with human rights defenders in the preparation of these manuals, so that the experiences and learning of civil society is also reflected.

viii. NHRIs should not discourage or seek to dissuade those critical civil society actors that positively respond to the invitation of the ICC for information on NHRIs at the time of their accreditation process.On the contrary, there should as a matter of course be in‐country consultations between NHRIs and civil society on the NHRI report to the Sub‐Committee on Accreditation of the ICC-NHRIs, before and after the accreditation process.

ix. ANNI calls upon APF to endorse the establishment of a regional working group of NHRIs and civil society organisations to take forward and move beyond the Kandy Program of Action in framing concrete actions for enhancing strategic areas of co‐operation between NHRIs and civil society.