Workshop highlights crucial role of human rights defenders


Participants of the 2022 Pacific Human Rights Defenders (PHRD) workshop at The University of the South Pacific’s Laucala campus this week. Picture: SUPPLIED/USP COMMUNICATIONS



Human rights defenders are often under threat and work in limited democratic spaces, says university academic Anare Tuitoga.

During the 2022 Pacific Human Rights Defenders (PHRD) workshop at The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Laucala campus this week, Mr Tuitoga said it was important for human rights defenders (HRD) to understand certain protection mechanisms which could help assist their role as defenders of human rights.

“Human rights defenders is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote and protect the human rights of everyone or seek to protect the right of people to exercise their rights, especially the vulnerable. They seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights as well as the promotion, protection, and realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights,” said Mr Tuitoga, a lecturer at USP’s School of Governance.

“A human rights activist on the other hand is a person who, individually or with others, acts to promote or protect human rights.

“They can be journalists, environmentalists, whistleblowers, lawyers, teachers, housing campaigners, participants in direct action, or just individuals acting alone. These two groups are crucial for us to understand.”

Mr Tuitoga said the role of defenders was more diverse compared to an activist.

USP School of Governance lecturer Dr Natasha Khan said the documentation of human rights violations was vital including pursuing verified and factual information regarding these violations.

“When we talk about documentation of human rights abuses, we are telling a story, whether it is about an individual, community or vulnerable group.

“By telling the story, you need to help the reader understand the situation, and give him or her information about what has actually happened. You need to tell the story of each case and then build up to a general statement.

“Human rights defenders also carry out a responsibility in verifying information, so documentation is based on factual information supported by credible evidence.

“Without evidence, we cannot make any accusation of human rights violations,” Dr Khan said.

Human rights defenders from the Pacific engaged in discussions about their roles and experiences as well as building resilience within the HRD network.

The three-day Pacific Human Rights Defenders workshop will end with a talanoa session focused on the way forward for PHRD and includes an evaluation of different topics covered during the event.


*Peni Taoi is a final-year journalism student at The University of the South Pacific. He is also a reporter for Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s student training newspaper and online publication.

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