Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice-Chancellor and President of USP and Dr Chitralekha Massey, Regional representative of OHCHR after the grant agreement signing.
The University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) signed a grant agreement valued at USD 78,999 for the development of two (2) human rights defenders courses which will be part of the Diploma in Leadership, Governance and Human Rights (DLGHR) programme at USP.
DLGHR programme was initiated in 2013 at a Diploma level at USP and currently has five (5) core courses. In collaboration with OHCHR and in recognition to improve understanding of defending human rights in the Pacific Island Countries, USP will develop one 200-level and one 300-level course on human rights defenders.
Both these courses will focus on developing and strengthening knowledge about methods of protection, legal mechanism and organisational development of human rights, the diverse situations of human rights defenders, threats encountered by Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and their loved ones as well as strategies to take action and mitigate risks.
Absence of a vibrant civil society laced with skill and knowledge on monitoring, documentation and advocacy for the cause of human rights continues to remain a critical issue in the Pacific.
Pacific societies often consider human rights as a Western concept with values that contradict local culture and tradition.
It is largely to do with the low level of awareness on human rights and also due to lack of advocacy based on evidence and knowledge.
The proposed intervention aims to address these concerns. In particular, it aims to equip students and young HRDs from the Pacific countries with required knowledge and understanding on human rights and governance and to help them grow as future leaders so that they can act as a bridge between the grass-roots and the policy-makers.
The project will further foster the relationship and cooperation between OHCHR and USP.
In signing the Agreement on 4 December, 2018, Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice-Chancellor and President of USP said that USP strongly supports human rights and protection of these rights, adding that these are all elements that are eloquently protected in the charter and status of the University.
“As a University, it is one of our roles to contribute to the development of societies in the Pacific that accept universal human rights, and develop as societies that are progressive. It is part of our core business at USP. It is part of our social responsibilities to respond to bigger regional and international obligations,” Professor Chandra said.
He noted that the courses will deploy the University’s sophisticated multi-modal system, so they will be available in different modes across its fourteen (14) Campuses.
One major appeal of the University is its ability to reach out everywhere in the Pacific.
On the whole, Professor Chandra commented that the University has a reputation for sustaining programmes beyond the project phase, and human rights programme is one of those.
Dr Chitralekha Massey, Regional representative of OHCHR in the Pacific expressed her delight in signing the partnership agreement adding that they would like to see this partnership “grow from strength to strength.”
She stated that the human rights defenders course is very much a growing need in the Pacific as identified by the OHCHR.
Dr Massey further said that they see this partnership as an opportunity to widen the shrinking space around freedom of expression and association including academic freedom.
“I think it is very important that we make sure that this is thriving, because if academic institutions are able to provide that space, there is always hope for all of the others who are fighting for that space,” she said.
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