Civil society is key for the implementation of international recommendations
The Director of Global South Watch [GSW] was present during the XI International Human Rights Colloquium, human rights defenders from 30 countries in the Global South debated the fundamental role of civil society in monitoring the implementation of international and regional recommendations on the local level.
From November 5 to 12, more than 53 human rights advocates from Africa, Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe participated in the XI International Human Rights Colloquium, organized by Conectas. During the event, they had the opportunity to share experiences on the “Implementation of international and regional human rights decisions and recommendations ”. The conference, which was held in São Paulo (Brazil), was also attended by 30 observers and speakers.
Over the period of a week, the participants addressed the challenges and opportunities involved with implementing human rights decisions and recommendations on the national level. They discussed real experiences with the United Nations and with regional human rights systems (Organization of American States, African Union, Council of Europe and ASEAN).
James Goldston (Open Society Justice Initiative) opened the conference, by video ,highlighting the fact that these systems are relatively new, have fewer resources and rest on less settled juridical foundations than their domestic counterparts. Yet, the number of cases filed and judgments delivered by such bodies steadily increases. Mario Coriolano (UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of the Torture) also pointed out that the “main challenge to implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture is to have truly autonomous and independent prevention and monitoring mechanisms at the national level”.
According to Oscar Vilhena Vieira (Getúlio Vargas Foundation), part of the implementation challenge refers to the inequality between individuals and the way this is perceived by society. For him, the realization of rights for all is not a consensual value and that is why human rights violations can occur. During a panel on the implementation of the Durban Plan of Action, Edna Roland (Rapporteur of the Durban Conference), reaffirmed that “sometimes we have to have unequal treatment in order to produce equality” and stressed the importance of affirmative action policies.
The participants also discussed ways to help civil society organizations improve the local impact of UN treaty bodies and special rapporteurs and the importance of innovative implementation mechanisms. These mechanisms are recognized in new international instruments, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.
In order to permit a horizontal sharing of experiences, the participants presented practical cases of their work within the regional and international systems, and pointed out the strategies they used and the challenges they encountered. “Very often, the African system is not used just because people are not aware of it,” said Saite António Júnior, from Mozambique.
During the working groups, divided by language, participants discussed issues concerning the monitoring of recommendations made during the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). At the end of the Colloquium, the participants simulated a session of the UPR.
According to Thiago Amparo, research and training coordinator at Conectas, “each year, the Colloquium innovates both methodologically and thematically, in order to stimulate a horizontal debate and an exchange of ideas between the attending human rights advocates”.
This year, one of the major new developments was the inclusion of French as an official language, together with English, Portuguese and Spanish. This made it possible for human rights advocates from Algeria, Morocco, Burkina Faso and Haiti to take part in the event.
“I have learnt that despite the differences of language, race and geographical location, the language of human rights and dignity for all is the same,”, considers Bellinda Chinowawa, from Zimbabwe.
The XI Colloquium also addressed issues that have had wide-scale national and international repercussions, such as the relationship between companies and human rights, the Arab Spring and the National Truth Commission in Brazil.
On the panel “Business and Human Rights”, David Bilchitz (SAIFAC) spoke about the UN guidelines on the subject. The experiences tackling human rights violations in the extraction industry in Latin America and slave labor in Brazil served to exemplify the issue and they were presented, respectively, by Tamaryn Nelson (Amnesty International) and Leonardo Sakamoto (Repórter Brasil).
On the panel on the Arab Spring, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (President of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria) stated that civil society always moves faster than government. According to him, the current transformations in the Middle East are due to civil society action.
Finally, in light of the recently approved law creating a National Truth Commission in Brazil to investigate human rights abuses committed during the military dictatorship, a visit was made to São Paulo’s “Resistance Memorial”, where the participants could learn more about the period of authoritarian rule and the topic of transitional justice.
“I am filled with enthusiasm and I believe that events, such as the Colloquium contribute to strengthen networks and create new interactions and partnerships,” said the Brazilian participant Camila Koch.