Cook Islands Ombudsman Niki Rattle has returned from a conference in Fiji with fresh ideas as the office looks to establish a Human Rights Institute for the Cook Islands.

The Pacific Regional Forum on National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI), held last week, featured representatives from several nations, and took place in Nadi, Fiji.

Rattle, along with two fellow staffers, attended the conference.

“We learned from Samoa Ombudsman Office staff the pathway they took to establish NHRI in their Office and activities in the consultations with the communities for their understanding and feed back to the establishment and the ongoing education and awareness raising so the rights of all citizens are observed,” Rattle said.

The Cook Islands Ombudsman Office is in the process of creating an NHRI. In the past, Rattle has said the NHRI would have a focus on LGBTQI rights, as well as disability rights.

“The Paris Principles are the basic requirements in the application of the NHRI and the Accreditation Process by the Global Association of the Human Rights Institution (GANHRI) has so far awarded Samoa an ‘A’ grading which the Cook Islands would aspire to achieve,” Rattle said.

However, Rattle also noted the Tuvalu Ombudsman Office have difficulties with the implementation of the full programme due to lack of resources and are working on progressing.

“The importance of awareness raising at all levels of society, particularly in relation to religious values such as respect, dignity and equality. There were also interesting discussions about climate change and human rights where people may be displaced as what instruments need to be in place to maintain their identity.”

Rattle said “we are taking the successes of Samoa Ombudsman Office to be our guide and also learning the lessons of Tuvalu to ensure that our establishment plans will work to our advantage and of course with the support of our supporting partners who have openly expressed their support via technical support and financial assistance especially in our efforts of outreach to the Pa Enua for consultation”.

“We are preparing to reach out to the Pa Enua with simplified, translated information into the various dialects for ease of understanding and to collect the input from the communities.

“The Ombudsman Act 1984 is being reviewed with the assistance of the Asia Pacific Foundation for the insertion of the NHRI. This is a new function within our office and of course will be needing extra staff and resources.”

There were over 40 participants from the regional Ombudsman Offices as well as representatives/presenters from the donor agencies from USAID, SPC (The Pacific Community), Asia Pacific Forum, NZ Foreign Affairs and Trade and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“The pleasant surprises were the abundance of support in sharing knowledge, skills amongst the Pacific representatives and the supporting agencies where people shared peer to peer experiences,” Rattle said.

“I was surprised that only NZ, Australia, Fiji, Samoa and Tuvalu were the only countries that had established NHRIs. However, I do believe that the Forum has raised interest and confidence for other countries to look into their individual country situations.”

Rattle said her team was very pleased to have Tepaeru Herrmann, the Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, accompanied by Jim Armistead, the Cook Islands High Commissioner to Fiji, attend the first day of the NHRI Forum.

“They had arrived in Nadi a day ahead of their own Pacific Islands Leaders Forum and joined us and they were able to hear my presentation to the Forum of our journey so far in the establishment of NHRI in the Cook Islands.

“We also had the pleasure of the Ombudsman Office Minister Mac Mokoroa join our opening dinner that evening.

“The Ombudsman Office is an independent office and we anticipate favourable support from the government in our efforts in this initiative. It was most encouraging to have the Fiji Attorney General Minister of Justice Hon Sirome Turaga remain amongst the Pacific participants after delivering the opening speech at the first Pacific NHRI Forum being his first official engagement other than Parliament since becoming a Minister.”