Australia: A Fair Go for All
Opening Remarks by Ambassador Rod Smith
14th Australia-Philippines Policy Forum
17 June 2010, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Ortigas
• Attorney Leila M. de Lima, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
• The Honourable Catherine Branson QC, President and Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission
• Honourable Lorenzo Tanada, Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights
Other guest speakers, colleagues from the diplomatic corps, human rights experts, friends from the media, ladies and gentlemen – magandang umaga sa inyong lahat, good morning, and welcome to this Asia Pacific Policy Forum on human rights.
This is the 14th Asia Pacific Policy Forum organised by the Australian Embassy. These forums are intended to stimulate discussion between policy makers and opinion leaders from Australia and the Philippines on issues of contemporary importance to both our countries, and to the region more broadly.
Our past forums have covered topics as diverse as counter-terrorism, interfaith dialogue, and climate change and disaster risk reduction.
This year we have partnered with the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines to explore the theme of protecting and promoting human rights.
I would like to personally thank Chairperson de Lima and her staff at the CHR for their enthusiastic support of this joint initiative.
Australia promotes and protects human rights
Australia is a strong and longstanding advocate of human rights for all. There is an expression in the Australian vernacular – to give someone a “fair go” – which captures the strong belief that Australians have that everyone is entitled to live his or her life without discrimination or the denial of opportunity, regardless of background or circumstance.
Everyone is entitled to a fair go. It’s not a new principle, but one rooted in our history and our values.
When the Australian colonies federated as a nation in 1901, ours was one of the first countries in the world to grant equal voting rights to both men and women.
Australia – along with the Philippines – was among the original signatories to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights almost 62 years ago.
Australia is a party to all landmark human rights treaties and we are committed to their universal adherence and implementation. We welcome international scrutiny of our human rights record as a means to improve our own performance, even if that scrutiny is critical or politically uncomfortable – and at times it has certainly been that.
The reality is that, despite our attachment to the principle of a fair go, Australia - like all countries - continues to face human rights challenges, particularly in relation to the circumstances of indigenous Australians.
Australia’s human rights practices will be reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council in February next year and we are encouraged by other States that have gone before us – at least those which have genuinely reflected on how they might do better, embraced the participation of civil society, and accepted and acted upon the constructive recommendations made by their international peers.
These States include the Philippines, which has not only been through the Universal Periodic Review process but where the landmark reports by Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Executions (and coincidentally an Australian), made a major contribution to debate on human rights in this country.
In April this year, the Australian Government launched a new Human Rights Framework after a wide-ranging process of public consultation. The Framework outlines a range of measures to further protect and promote human rights in Australia. It underscores the importance of promoting human rights through education, improving human rights protections including through greater parliamentary scrutiny, and achieving greater respect for human rights principles within the community. A copy is included in your program folder.
The Framework also commits to enhancing Australia’s international engagement on human rights. Australia in fact has long worked to help promote and protect human rights internationally in practical ways under the Australian Government Aid Program, including building the institutional capacity of national human rights bodies.
We recognise that the protection of human rights is an important element in empowering those living in extreme poverty. Promoting and protecting human rights underpins good governance and leads to sustainable and equitable growth.
Our global Human Rights Fund, supported by an annual budget of A$6.5 million (around Php250 million), specifically focuses on human rights programs and institutions, and often complements other development interventions through bilateral, regional and NGO programs.
With Australian support, the Asia Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions has provided advice and expertise to assist with the establishment of national human rights commissions in the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia and Thailand. As a direct result, the number of internationally-accredited national human rights institutions in our region has grown from four to 17 since 1996.
A time to re-focus on human rights
Our forum today comes at an opportune time
• the Philippines is only weeks away from the transition to a new Administration under President-elect Aquino
• and international interest in human rights in the Philippines remains high following the tragic massacre that occurred last November in Maguindanao province.
Australia was among the first nations to condemn the senseless and brutal killing of civilians and journalists in Maguindanao.
We said at the time that politically-motivated killings and other forms of violence have no place in any society. Journalists must be allowed to do their job without fear or intimidation. Sadly, journalist killings continue, as we have seen again just this last week. Again, we deplore these acts and extend our condolences to the victims’ families.
These tragic events are a powerful reminder that the challenges that lie ahead are great. But so too are expectations that the victims of the Maguindanao massacre and their families – and those of other human rights violations – will receive justice.
The Filipino people and international community alike are watching the case against those accused of the Maguindanao massacre with great interest. The conduct of this case and others will shape international perceptions of human rights in the Philippines.
Australia and the Philippines: Partners in protecting and promoting human rights
Australia’s interest in human rights is not just rhetorical, but practical. We are committed to offering practical assistance and sharing technical expertise to help address human rights challenges.
We are a longstanding development cooperation partner of the Philippines, and we are working closely to support civil society and government agencies, including the CHR, to improve human rights for all.
The Australian Government has earmarked A$2 million (Php76 million) over four years (2009-13) for an expanded human rights capacity building program in the Philippines. As part of this initiative, we will be expanding our strategic partnership with the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines in line with its own organisational development plans.
We scaled-up our assistance on human rights significantly in 2007 with a A$250,000 (Php9.5 million) package of assistance to the Philippine Judicial Academy, the Free Legal Assistance Group Flag and The Asia Foundation. This assistance provided training for judges and prosecutors in international law and the Writ of Amparo, helped establish and train a national network of FLAG paralegals, and funded a legal audit of extra-judicial killings cases before the courts.
Australia is a major donor to the human rights grants scheme, KaSaMa (Karapatan Sa Malikhaing Paraan), funding five projects this financial year. Projects funded through KaSaMa are selected on the basis that they provide innovative responses to entrenched human rights challenges, with priority given to projects that exhibit creativity, impact and cost effectiveness.
A number of our successful KaSaMa partners will showcase their projects in the foyer during today’s morning tea. I would encourage you all to drop by their displays during the break.
The Australian Embassy also administers an annual Human Rights Small Grants Scheme which provides assistance of up to A$100,000 (Php3.8 million) for one-year projects that aim to protect, promote and monitor human rights. This year we are supporting a project to create a paralegals network across four conflict-affected municipalities in Lanao Del Norte to empower local people to identify and articulate human rights violations to legal authorities.
Today’s policy forum is intended to provoke thought, discussion and dialogue. Its success will depend on your active participation.
Following this morning’s keynote speeches and a short break for refreshments, we will have a series of guest presenters on two topical themes: press freedom and journalist killings, and the challenges of prosecution and conviction in human rights cases. I am sure the presentations this morning will prompt some thought provoking questions, and I invite you to take an active part in our Q&A sessions.
I want to acknowledge in particular our special guests and keynote speakers, Chairperson Leila de Lima, the Chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, Ms Catherine Branson, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, who has flown in from her home town of Adelaide in South Australia to be with us for the Forum. Thank you both for taking the time to speak today.
I am delighted that Chief Justice Reynato Puno is also joining us today. He will deliver a keynote address on the human rights legacy of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Puno has recently retired from the bench after four years as the Philippines’ chief magistrate. Among his major achievements are the landmark writs of Amparo and Habeas Data, and the establishment of small claims courts. The Court’s ‘Justice on Wheels’ program to help with case decongestion is also another innovation of which he can be proud. I look forward to Chief Justice Puno’s speech during lunch.
Allow me also to express our appreciation to our MC today, the highly respected TV journalist Ces Drilon, who has herself been the victim of appalling human rights violations, including the deprivation of her liberty. Thank you Ces.
Finally, on behalf of the Australian Embassy and our partners for this forum, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, I thank you for your attendance here today.
Please enjoy the discussion this morning. Maraming salamat.