Chaired by Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, British Labour Party, the SI Committee on Human Rights, SICOHR, met in Manila on 25 April. The meeting was hosted by the Philippines Democratic Socialist Party, PDSP, and participants from all continents gathered to discuss a number of topics which had been raised at the London meeting of SICOHR held at the end of last year. Firstly, the Committee debated strengthening and promoting social and economic rights. Secondly, delegates focused on racism and xenophobia. Thirdly, as part of the Committee's work on reviewing the framework for prioritising action taken by the International, discussion papers were presented on the SI's structures for dealing with complaints about member parties' human rights records and for responding to appeals for action on extreme human rights violations.
SI Secretary General Luis Ayala addressed the delegates at the opening,recognising the holding of the meeting in Asia as an expression of the Committee's concern for social and economic rights as well as civil and political rights in the region. The SI remained, he said, committed to the fight for the betterment of people's democratic and human rights in Asia as elsewhere.
As agreed at the last SICOHR meeting held in London, rapporteurs had prepared papers on different concerns for discussion by the Committee. Thomas Hammarberg, Swedish Social Democratic Party, SAP, introduced a discussion paper on economic, social and cultural rights, a focus of human rights concerns that the Committee had agreed was a natural area of work for the International.
Thomas Hammarberg said that these rights included labour rights, rights to education, health and an adequate standard of living and that it was the task of the Committee to improve understanding of a rights-based approach to economic and social issues. Also, member parties, particularly those in government, should be encouraged to ratify the internationally-recognised standards regarding these fundamental rights.
He explained that dialogue should be consolidated with international trade union organisations and the women's movement to mobilise action in this field. Important progress could be made by combining this campaign with campaigns for migrant workers, women's rights, children's rights, he stated.
Clare Short continued the debate with the reminder that it is the duty of every government to secure such rights for every citizen and to promote a world system that helps these rights to be realised. She added that the marking this year of the fiftieth anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights afforded the opportunity to refresh people's memories of the enormous importance of the indivisibility and universality of all human rights.
Dominador Calamba, of the Philippines Democratic Socialist Party, PDSP, and Regional Director of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, then spoke of the resolve of the Philippine people to protect and promote human rights, and on the changing human rights situation in his country.
Delegates then outlined specific difficulties for economic, social and cultural rights in their particular national situations.
The Committee outlined further action to be taken in the area of economic, social and cultural rights. It was agreed that this issue should be central to the discussions of the XXI Congress to be held in 1999.
Turning to the second item on the agenda, delegates expressed agreement that this was a vital topic for discussion by the Committee and that the introductory paper on racism and xenophobia in Europe and the rights of migrant workers was an excellent contribution to the debate. While recognising the contribution of European socialist and social democratic parties' concerted action in this area, the paper called for further action: legislation on racism, legislation on freedom of movement for migrant workers, legislation on the political, social and economic rights of residents, increasing the budgets for anti-discrimination and urging all political parties to sign up to an anti-racist code of conduct for elections.
The Committee then examined the SI structures for responding to complaints about the human rights records of member parties. As a result of the London meeting, a discussion paper was presented by the Chair on procedures to ensure a clear process for making complaints, investigating fairly, making recommendations, allowing member parties an opportunity to improve their records, and, ultimately, taking sanctions.
The final discussion paper of the meeting concerned how the SI might respond where there is a need for rapid action over alleged human rights violations. The paper outlined two methods of organisation - a 'rapid response' network amongst SI member parties and formal investigation by the Committee. Delegates considered it essential that the SI network should be effective and truly able to show its solidarity with those being abused. It was suggested that action could take various forms: letters of support to those whose human rights are under attack, letters to the government in question appealing for protection for those under attack; letters to local SI member parties asking them to take up the issue; SI parliamentarians to raise awareness of the issue in their parliaments; and SI member parties to invite representatives to address party conferences and show solidarity with those under attack.
In accordance with the decisions reached at the London meeting, it was reaffirmed that any formal action taken by the Socialist International should not duplicate the work of other organisations, but that complementary action could be extremely helpful in highlighting the gravity of the violations. It was proposed that the criteria for the SI's intervention should be: the abuse is so serious that all international observers voice their concern; the rights being abused are particularly of concern to the International, for example persecution of member party or trade union activists; or the SI has an entry into the conflict, for instance through a member party or other political connections, which could mean that the International's intervention could be especially effective.
Delegates were then invited to present national cases of rights abuse. Michael Beahan, Australian Labour Party, ALP, gave a brief report of the abuses of the present government with regard to undermining and impairing rights gained by the indigenous people of Australia. He also outlined the abuses suffered by the waterfront workers. Oung Myint Tun, National League for Democracy, NLD, gave an update of the situation in Burma and condemnation of the latest attacks on refugee camps in Thailand, of the imprisonment of NLD members and of the government-sponsored forced relocation and other abuses in Central Shan State was called for.
Addressing the selective prosecution and political persecution which exist in Malaysia, Teresa Kok, Democratic Action Party, DAP, referred the Committee to the case of Lim Guan Eng, member of parliament of Kota Melaka and deputy secretary general of the opposition Democratic Action Party. Mahesh Acharya, Nepali Congress Party, reported on the plight of the Bhutanese people. Qasim Zia, Pakistan People's Party, PPP, explained the nature of abuses suffered by his party. Commenting on the situation in the Middle East, Izzat Sabbe Shahrour, Fatah, detailed the current setbacks faced by his people.
It was noted that the work of the Committee would be highlighted and reported on at the Oslo Council meeting.