Representatives of national human rights institutions from around the world gathered in Muscat last week for the second Gulf Forum of National Human Rights Institutions. The forum, which was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Muscat, focused on the role of national institutions in promoting and protecting human rights.
The forum was opened under the auspices of HE Dr Yahya al Mantheri, chairman of the State Council, and included the participation of key figures in the field of human rights such as Mohammed al Riyami, chairman of Oman’s National Human Rights Commission; Fateh Azzam, speaking on behalf of Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Katharina Rose, director of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI); and Mohammed al Madheed from Qatar National Human Rights.
The speakers covered a range of topics, including the international standards of forming human rights institutions, promoting cooperation between NHRI’s and UN mechanisms, the role of civil institutions in promoting human rights understanding, trade union rights, and the rights of knowledge and expression.
“The main purposes of the forum are to promote and protect human rights, to exchange information and expertise, and to bring awareness to people in Oman,” said Laila al Aufi, international relations and organisations director of Oman’s NHRC, speaking to TheWeek on the opening day of the forum.
“Participation in the forum reflects the important role of international human rights commissions on all levels of society,” said Riyami, opening the forum. “We have to prepare the necessary atmosphere in order to serve humanity in our countries, and to do this we must discuss.”
The first forum was held in Doha in 2010 and focused on establishing the ‘Paris Principles’, which sets out the standards and responsibilities of NHRCs in the Gulf region. This year’s forum was perhaps even more significant, following the recent unrest in the region.
Drawing on the uprisings, Azzam said, “This forum is important because the region is experiencing many changes. People are feeling marginalised and governments have been posing obstacles to civil society. The NHRCs play a very important role in fixing the relationships between the governments and civil institutions.”
Oman’s NHRC, which hosted the forum, has also been focusing on its own development and promoting human rights education within the community. “There is a general lack of knowledge in Oman of what human rights are. We have human rights incorporated into the basic statute of the state and now that we have a commission; it signifies the political change that has happened within the government here,” said Laila.
Having only launched in 2010, the NHRC has been increasing its activities and is working towards accreditation from the UN’s International Coordinating Com-mittee. This will provide the organisation with opportunities to take part in international discussions at the UN and give it voting power.
“We’re now working on building credibility domestically and also internationally.
The UN knows of our existence and the activities we are carrying out,” said Laila. “Through this forum, we have helped to make people aware that we are here, and that we are trying to improve ourselves and be effective in what we do.”