Pacific States face many human rights challenges both within national borders and collectively as a region.
At a national level, Pacific States often struggle with the protection and promotion of human rights especially on issues like domestic violence, police brutality, and access to basic services like health, education, and sanitation, among others. State institutions and those tasked with the protection of human rights struggle with the lack of resources, competency and capacity needed to ensure better protection of people’s rights. To this end, Pacific States have relied on external support from donors, technical agencies of the United Nations and regional organisations like the Pacific Community and the Pacific Islands Forum to help them navigate human rights challenges both at the nation and regional level, as well as to build technical competency and capacity to address human rights issues.
Moreover, together as a Pacific region, including members of sub-regional groupings like the Melanesian Spearhead Group, Pacific states have adopted process that allow them to address common regional human rights challenges associated with climate change, regional security, and gender among other regional concerns. These processes include the adoption of regional arrangements such as the Framework for Regionalism 2014, the Gender Equality Declaration 2012, the Boe (2018) and Biketawa (2000) Declarations and the Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now 2018, among others.
These challenges both at the national and regional level prompts this inquiry and the need to re-examine the existing human rights architectures and identify what sort of arrangements for the region would address or enhance the protection of human rights both in country and within the broader region. Added to this challenge is the glaring philosophical challenge of vernacularizing human rights in the Pacific, which continues to be a struggle based on their presumed contradictions to culture and religion. However, this conversation on human rights has significantly shifted from a place of resistance to one of caution or embrace by Pacific States depending on a range of factors that will be examined further in my research.
Within the global human rights systems, conversations around national human rights institutions and regional human rights mechanisms have seen many States adopt the former and regions such as Europe, Africa, and the Americas the latter by creating both regional and, in some instances, sub regional arrangements for the protection of human rights. Various Pacific States have also taken steps at the national level to conduct feasibility studies into the creation of national human rights institutions with Fiji, Tuvalu, and Samoa since then establishing their national human rights institutions. However initial discussions have taken place for a regional arrangement on human rights both through the Pacific Plan and there is scope in the Framework for Pacific regionalism to consider this. In fact, an initiative by LAWASIA in the 1980s to draft a Pacific Charter for Human Rights failed to get any traction due to a range of factors including timing, the lack of political capital and the fact that the process was driven externally rather than by Pacific States themselves (Jalal: 2007). The initiative into a regional architecture for human rights have since become dormant despite the evolving human rights environment both by States and collectively as a region.
This then begs the question “Does the Pacific require (new) regional arrangements for the protection and advancement of human rights? If so, what form should this take?”
About the Speaker
Prior to joining the Australian National University, Romulo Nayacalevu was the the program manager for the Governance and Legal Affairs program with the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Secretariat in Vanuatu.
Before joining the MSG, Romulo was a Senior Human Rights Adviser with the Pacific Community (SPC RRRT), spending over 5 years and supporting 14 Pacific governments on a range of human rights issues including reporting and implementation of the core human rights treaties. And before that, he spent over 5 years with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Pacific Regional Office and about three years in private practice in Suva.
His interest is around human rights implementation in the Pacific and in particular human rights protection mechanisms and systems and Governance in Pacific states. He completed his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Australian National University.
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Image by Hazel Owen on Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.