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From Kenya to Kuala Lumpur: boosting the role of national human rights institutions




At the very heart of CESR’s work to protect economic and social rights lies our commitment to collaborating with human rights defenders in various corners of the globe. And in keeping with this ethos, 2012 has seen the Center working closely with national human rights institutions in Kenya, New Zealand and Malaysia to boost their capacity to advance economic and social rights in their countries.

Our partnership with the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) has recently culminated in a primer on how to effectively monitor economic, social and cultural rights. The briefing, a product of a partnership that began in early 2011, explores how ESC rights, as enshrined in the country’s new Constitution, can inform a human rights-based approach to development. It also introduces ways the commission can assess compliance with these norms, such as evaluating indicators and benchmarks, or analyzing budgets from a human rights perspective.
Partnerships such as these are not one-way relationships, and the opportunity to work closely with the KNCHR over such an extended period also provided CESR with an invaluable perspective on the way these institutions work. As official state “watchdogs”, these bodies are uniquely placed to  increase accountability for deprivations of ESC rights. Yet, they frequently face a range of challenges in doing effectively so.

Expanding our efforts to support NHRIs in meeting some of these challenges, in 2012 CESR embarked on a new partnership with the Asia-Pacific Forum, which sees us providing support to national human rights institutions in several countries. With some 1.8 billion people living in poverty in the region, the need for an effective rights-based approach to development couldn’t be more apparent.

Our collaboration with the APF focuses on helping its member institutions to develop the knowledge and skills they need to assess the rights impacts of various economic and social policies.

“With these skills, national human rights institutions will be better able to prepare strong and rigorous reports on their government’s performance in meeting its international commitments on economic, social and cultural rights,” said Kieren Fitzpatrick, Director of the APF secretariat.

“It will also equip them with the data and analysis they need to constructively engage with key decision makers and to have a real impact in discussions around the development and monitoring of public policies.”

The collaboration adopts an innovative ‘learning by doing’ approach, with institutions undertaking training on the Center’s four-step ‘Opera Framework’ for monitoring ESC rights, as well as on the monitoring tools and techniques that underpin the framework. Following the training, CESR mentors staff at the institution to apply the lessons from the training to a specific monitoring project.

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission participated in such a workshop in July and is currently undertaking a project to assess how the right to an adequate standard of living has been advanced in efforts to rebuild communities affected by the devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch in February 2011. And just last week a CESR team travelled to Malaysia to train staff from the national human rights commission, SUHAKAM, and assist them in planning for a research project that will look into the provision of primary education to children with learning disabilities.

In 2013 CESR will continue to expand its partnerships with NHRIs and other partners, both in the Asia-Pacific and other parts of the world, in order to facilitate better monitoring, and in turn access to economic and social rights of vulnerable people everywhere.