"The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in the Promotion and Implementation of the Yogyakarta Principles"
The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in the Promotion and Implementation of the Yogyakarta Principles
Opening Statement by Pip Dargan, Deputy Director, APF
Tuesday 5 May 2009
The APF is very pleased to warmly welcome you to this regional workshop on the role of NHRIs in promoting and implementing the Yogyakarta Principles.
We are particularly excited to be holding this workshop in the very town where the Principles were originally developed in 2006 - and to also have so many of the experts involved in that process here with us this week.
I would like to thank the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) for hosting this historic meeting. It is historic because it is the first time that any regional or international group of NHRIs have come together to discuss the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity which have been so clearly set out in the Yogyakarta Principles
This morning I would like to set out a brief background on why we are meeting and what we hope to achieve.
Under the umbrella of the Asia Pacific Forum this workshop brings together 9 NHRIs from our wide region including the NHRIs of:
South Korea and
These institutions reflect the various sub-regions of the greater Asia Pacific as well as the diverse cultural, religious and social composition of our membership.
Why are we meeting?
Many of the member institutions of the Asia Pacific Forum have individually taken up issues relating to the human rights of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
Some institutions have acted on complaints of discrimination and human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation.
Others have advocated for changes to law and practice to promote and protect the human rights of these persons.
Some have identified persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities as priority or vulnerable groups in need of human rights protection.
At the regional level issues relating to human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity were raised at the APF’s 11th Annual Meeting held in Suva, Fiji in August 2006.
The APF also noted that the Yogyakarta Principles made a specific recommendation to NHRIs which called upon them to integrate the Principles into their human rights work.
What do we hope to achieve from this meeting?
By coming together this week we hope to learn and document how national human rights commissions are using their mandates and powers to address discrimination and human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
We will also have an opportunity to learn about the political and social challenges and tensions inherent in our work on these issues.
We want to build a detailed understanding of the Yogyakarta Principles, their relevance to NHRIs and how these Principles and existing international human rights law can be utilised by NHRIs.
This week we will also have the opportunity to develop a better comprehension around what is sometimes regarded as confusing or complex terminology - for example ‘sexual orientation’ ‘sexual expression’, ‘transgender’, ‘intersex’ as well develop an understanding around other country-specific terms that refer to sexual minorities.
These few days will also provide national institutions with the opportunity to assess what actions member institutions and the APF can take to promote and implement the Yogyakarta Principles, nationally, regionally and internationally.
And finally an important outcome to this workshop will be the development of a consensus document from this meeting as the basis for further work on these issues. This morning Chris Sidoti will be speaking in more detail on this concluding document and its process.
Welcome to Experts
As mentioned earlier we are very appreciative to have with us some of the key international human rights experts that helped develop the Yogyakarta Principles. We also have with us highly regarded experts from Indonesia who will discuss political and religious perspectives as well as other experts on sexual orientation and gender expression.
I would like to acknowledge and welcome:
Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn from Thailand. Vitit was the Co-chair of the Yogyakarta Experts Group and a long-term friend of the APF and is a jurist on the APFs Advisory Council of Jurists. Vitit is also a Professor of Law and has extensive UN experience and was the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography from 1990-1994, and from 2005 has been the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in North Korea.
Ms Sonia Correa from Brazil, who was the other co-chair of the Yogyakarta experts’ group is also with us. Sonia is also a Research Associate at the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association and co-chair of Sexuality Policy Watch.
Professor Michael O’Flaherty was the Rapporteur of the Yogykarta Experts Group. Michael is Professor of Applied Human Rights and Co-Director of the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham. Michael is currently serving as a member of the UN Human Rights Committee.
John Fisher who is based in Geneva is co-founder and co-director of ARC International and along with Chris Sidoti was at the forefront of initiating and organising the process that developed the Yogyakarta Principles. ARC International is a prominent organisation working to promote human rights concerning sexual orientation and gender identity and is active in pursuing these rights in the UN HRC.
We (will) also have with us Bapak Marzuki Darusman, former Attorney-General of Indonesia, former Chair of the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, current parliamentarian and co-chair of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human rights mechanism. In his term as Vice Chair and Chair of the Indonesian Commission his support was instrumental in the establishment of the Asia Pacific Forum.
Ibu Musdah Mulia is a recognised expert in Islam and human rights and is Chairperson of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace.
I’m also glad that we have Grace Poore with us this week and Grace is the Regional Coordinator for Asia and Pacific Islands for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
We are looking forward to your various contributions this week.
National human rights institutions have a unique role in the promotion and protection of human rights.
They are unique because they have official powers to monitor state obligations in relation to international human rights law as well investigate complaints, conduct research, make recommendations to government, undertake human rights education and awareness campaigns.
A key role of a NHRI is to address community attitudes that have the effect of discriminating against or violating people’s human rights. This also extends to raising visibility and awareness within the international community and NHRIs have a recognised role to engage within the international human rights system.
I remember my first trip in 2003 to the then Commission on Human Rights in Geneva (now the Human Rights Council) . I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed and excited to be the international hub of human rights.
That year the Government of Brazil had introduced a draft resolution titled ‘Human Rights and Sexual Orientation’ – it was of course - as you all know - very controversial. Walking through the corridors of the UN I came across a whiteboard. It stopped me in my tracks because I would never have anticipated that I would find scrawled across it the words ‘homosexuals are sick’.
I stood frozen in front of that board for a number of minutes realising, perhaps very naively that even within the UN strong negative attitudes towards people of same sex orientation existed and these were obviously being vented in reaction to the Brazilian draft resolution.
I also realised how that graffiti sent a very clear message that would have the effect of making some people feel very unsettled or excluded in a place where they would not expect to experience such feelings. It may have seemed like an insignificant issue to some but the impact of that message was not insignificant and the fact that it was in the UN added another dimension.
NHRIs have a role in engaging the international UN HR system and raising human rights issues in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. They can do so though the Human Rights Council, treaty bodies, special procedures and the Universal Periodic Review – as well as in regional human rights mechanisms where they exist.
The promotion of non-discrimination and equality in law must go hand in hand with community education and raising awareness and this clearly is where NHRIs can play a leadership role in promoting universal human rights and dignity of the person at the national and international levels.
This week the APF, through its membership, is helping to contribute to that process and we are looking forward to mapping out a better understanding of what we are doing as individual institutions and what we can possible do collectively. Finally, in conclusion again I want to sincerely thank our hosts, Komnas HAM, particularly its Chairperson Ifdhal Kasim and Vice Chairperson Ibu Hesti Armiwulan for their support and enthusiasm in organising this workshop in partnership with the APF.