Implementing human rights in the Pacific through the work of national human rights institutions: The experience of fiji

The period since the end of the Cold War has seen increased international efforts to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level. At the vanguard of these measures has been a campaign to support the establishment of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). NHRIs established after 1993 have been encouraged to conform to the Paris Principles, criteria endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly and designed to maintain the independence, effectiveness and pluralistic basis of NHRIs. The benefits of embedding a human rights institution within the state are many. They include the fact that the institution can work closely with government in implementing human rights, while still retaining a critical independence; the institution’s awareness of the socio-cultural context into which the panoply of human rights must be translated; and the sense of ownership by civil society of the human rights institution and the principles it embodies. The widespread trend of the establishment of NHRIs largely bypassed the Pacific Island states, with the exception of Fiji. This paper traces the history of the Fiji Human Rights Commission, from its establishment in 1999 and its admission to the regional and international groupings of NHRIs -- the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) and the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (ICC) -- to its response to the 2006 military takeover of the government of Fiji and the Commission’s subsequent resignation from the APF and ICC. The article explores how the experience of the Fiji Commission may be relevant to those Pacific states (such as Samoa, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands) that are presently considering the possible establishment of NHRIs.
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