Dialogue  July-September  2008, Volume 10  No. 1

Membership of Commonwealth of Nations of Asian countries in International Human Rights Organizations

  Gulmira Mambetalieva


  It is generally recognized that international (universal and regional) human rights structures are important in system of protection of human rights and freedom. Meaning of their activity consists of increasing of level and standards of protection in countries, consolidating appropriate policy and practice of member states, being a mouthpiece for discussions and debates on actual problems, monitoring of realization of international documents on human rights, evaluation of current situation, giving recommendations and etc. Some such structures have international jurisdiction. UN system including various elements belongs to universal structure. As regional structures are ODIHR /OSCE, Council of Europe and etc.

      There are also monitoring structures and human rights structures in Asian – Pacific Region. Asian – Pacific Region is the largest and various region of the world. It stretches from basin of Pacific ocean to Middle East, and includes three most populated countries in the world and more than one half of its population. The region is a cradle of the largest religions and cultures. Today, it is the most dynamic region in economic sense. And together with it, the region faces strong violation of human rights including discrimination of vulnerable groups, armed conflicts and internal movement of citizens, exploitation of children,



human traffic. In some countries of the region, the national calamity is corruption. Unlike other regions of the world, Asian – Pacific Region has no intergovernmental structures, for example, regional court, committees and other appropriate institutions which would realize protection and monitoring of human rights. But over the last years, the progress is achieved here, expression of which is establishment of national institutions of human rights. These institutes are associated within the framework of Asian – Pacific Forum. It was established in 1996 on the basis of membership of organization supporting formation and strengthening of national institutes of human rights in countries of the region. Headquarters of the Forum is Sidney . The Forum consists of three 14 rightful members and 3 associated members. National committees for human rights from the following Commonwealth countries are represented in the Forum: Australia , New Zealand , India , Fiji Islands , Malaysia , Sri-Lanka and others. Since 2007 representatives of the Republic of Maldives participate in work of the Forum i.

    Membership in the Forum gives possibility to cooperate on the regional basis due to wide range of services including trainings, increasing of potential of the Forum’s members, exchange of workers and etc. The Forum achieved noticeable successes in protection of individual rights and vulnerable groups in the region. The Forum renders to its members practical assistance in protection, monitoring and cooperation in human rights. Clients of the Forum are governments and organizations of civilian sector. Taking of decisions is a prerogative of the Forum Council, which includes representatives from every full member.

        Executive board of the Forum is its secretariat. The Forum organizes seminars and trainings, as well as assists development of jurisprudence in the region through council of lawyers. Another activity of the Forum is representing of recommendations and program for increasing of potential in certain matters on request of separate member countries. The Forum receives financial support from Australia , New Zealand , India , Korea , and Thailand .  The Forum is quite authoritative structure supporting wide international links including partner links (on projects) with Brooklyn Institute (on moved persons), UN High Commissioner of human rights, International center of services in the field of human rights, Association for tortures prevention, Raul Wallenberg Institute. Actual problems of human rights are discussed in annual meetings of the Forum. Particularly, the problem of human traffic was discussed on 6th conference in 2002 ii. In November 2005 in Sidney , the Forum under support of a number of international organization conducted next regional seminar in traffic problems. Representatives of National committees for human rights of 12 countries of region including India , Malaysia and Sri-Lanka participated in work of seminar iii. Action plan and recommendations were accepted on the seminar. Training on problems of mass media potential increasing was conducted in May 2005, in Malaysian Kuala Lumpur. Since 1998, the Forum annually issued reports on fulfilled work. Moreover, the Forum publishes two regular bulletins – «Forum bulletin» (informs member states, governments and non-governmental organizations about political, legal and other events in the region) and «Donor Update».    

     South Asia human rights documentation center (SAHRDC). This organization represents network of individuals of the region. The center carries out researches, documents and spreads information about agreements and conventions for human rights, refugees, mass media freedom, political prisoners, tortures, extrajudicial murders, deaths at arrest, disappearance of people and other facts of brutal treatment. The center use special consultative status in UN Economic and Social Council. Headquarters of the Center is located in New – Delhi and has not large resources. Besides of staff workers, the Center uses services of volunteers who at the instance of officers occupied with legal, medical and other matters. The Center accepts for research and analytical work students and specialists from all over the world, under condition that they are serious adherents of human rights and freedoms. The Center has continuing projects, realization of which often requires travels through Asian countries. In the last years, students of Yells School of Law, Columbian, Harvard and Virgin Universities , New York and Chicago Schools of Law, participated in work of the Center. Students of London Economic School , Essex and London Universities , National Law School of University in Bangalore , ( India ), University of Mumbai in India and J. Neru University are occupied in the Center.

    The circumstances that all its publications are issued in English language assist availability of information base of the Center. The list of documents is wide enough and includes national legislation, judicial materials, reports extracts from newspapers articles, books and etc. The Center publishes a lot of researches of human rights problems iv. Moreover, every three months the Center publishes magazine v. Training programs on human rights for countries of South Asia and East Asian region are realized regularly, for example, in Fiji Islands , in May 2003 for officers of National committees for human rights.

    Its own role in the field of human rights protection is fulfilled by «Initiative of Commonwealth for human rights» - independent international non-governmental organization, mandate of which provides practical realization of human rights in Commonwealth countries. It was founded in 1987 by several associations of Commonwealth, which believed that member countries give not enough consideration to the problem. «Initiative» was accredited under Commonwealth, and since 2002 has status of observer in Economic and Social Council of UN. The purpose of «Initiative» is assistance to understanding of importance of Harar declaration, General Declaration of human rights and other recognized instruments for human rights, as well as appropriate domestic legislation. «Initiative» represents to each summit Commonwealth reports on state of matters in the filed of human rights and freedom, as well as publishes a lot of factual materials on abuses. These materials are sent to secretariat, governments of member states and organization of civil sector. Work of «Initiative» is some kind of accelerant for activity of Commonwealth countries in the filed of human rights.

    Significant event for Commonwealth was inclusion of 13 member countries including Bangladesh , India , Malaysia , Pakistan and Sri-Lanka into UN Human Rights Council vii. The Council was founded under decision of General Assembly in April 2006, instead of committee for human rights. Institutionalization of the permanent Council reflects growing importance of the field of human rights and freedom together with problems of development and safety. Membership of Bangladesh and Malaysia will be continued till 2009; the membership of Sri-Lanka and Pakistan expires in this year, and the membership of India expired in 2007. Commonwealth countries confirmed their intention to cooperate closely with new international structure for interests of human rights all over the world. Welcoming formation of the Council, Commonwealth General Secretary of those times D. MacKinnon, though declared that new body should not repeat mistakes of its predecessor. Time of actions came, as he emphasized in his speech in Geneva on March 14, 2007 viii. There are no lack in legislation and declaration of human rights, as General Secretary supposes, there is lack of actions. D. MacKinnon emphasized necessity of unity of word and action at solving of human rights problems.

     Appealing to Commonwealth countries, General Secretary noticed that community successfully has developed mechanism of relation with these their member countries, which permanently or seriously break principles of Commonwealth. Member countries which will break these principles will be excluded from the Council, concluded D. MacKinnon, and their membership will be stopped. It concerns cases of illegal overthrow of governments.

    Summarizing the above stated, it should be noted the following: Participation of Asian Commonwealth countries in international organizations for human rights should be recognized as positive fact. Possibility and mouthpiece for discussion of current problems, analysis of trends, more objective appraisal of general situation in the field of human rights appeared. Together with it, absence of organization with jurisdiction in this field considerably reduces level of protection of human rights.                       




i Statement by Mr. Ahmed Saleem, President of Human Rights Commission of Maldives . 12th Annial Meeting of the PRF, Sydney , 24-27 September, 2007


ii Seventh Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institution 11th -13th November 2002, New Delhi , India Concluding Statement.


iii Regional Workshop on Human Trafficking and National Human Rights Institutions: Cooperating to End Impunity for Traffickers and to Secure Justice for Trafficked People. Sydney , Australia , 20-23 November, 2005


iv Human Rights National Commission for the Review of the Working of the Constitution in November 2000: Abolition of Death Penalty, SAHRDC’s submission to the National Commission for the Review of the Working of the Constitution in November 2000; Jamu and Kashmir Assembly Elections 2002. Democracy and Peace: The inextricable link, 2004; Impact of War on Terrorism on the Human Rights Situation in South Asia , 2003.


v Human Rights Features // Quarterly Journal of the Asia Pacific Human Rights Network (A Joint initiative of SAHRDC and HRDC).


vi Formed in 1981. In 1982, African Charter of human and nationalities rights was accepted in Nairobi .


vii See: Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Secretary – General of the United Nations New York. 10th April 2006.


viii Human rights suffer from shortage of action, not legislation. 14 March 2007.      

Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati