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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Looking to a new human rights system for Asia and the Pacific

75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

11 October 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


Asia-Pacific Regional Dialogue: Regional Human Rights Mechanisms

Excellencies, Ladies, Gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you all here today to this Asia-Pacific Regional Dialogue.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us recognize what an extraordinary compass it has been - for our collective journey towards a world defined by equality, freedom, peace and justice.

Born out of the devastation of the second world war, and drawing on traditions from every region, including the Asia-Pacific region, the Declaration is a constant and powerful reminder of our common humanity.

That human rights belong to everyone, everywhere.

At a time of rapid change and disruption - as we face a triple planetary crisis, deepening inequality, conflict and instability, and social polarization - this anniversary presents an historic opportunity to recommit to the spirit of the Declaration.

And to take action to realise its vision.

Today’s dialogue is one of five regional meetings my Office is holding as part of our Human Rights 75 Initiative. The outcomes of your discussions today will help shape our Vision Statement for Human Rights that we seek to release at our High-Level Event in December, and which hopefully will inform 2024’s Summit of the Future.

Our 75th anniversary initiative asks us to bring renewed energy and creativity to deliver on the promise made all those years ago of a world free from fear and want.

To do this we must explore with urgency new pathways for advancing all human rights -civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights; the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment; and the right to development.

Which brings me to today’s theme - a regional human rights system for the Asia-Pacific.

Distinguished delegates, dear colleagues,

The Asia-Pacific is the only region that does not benefit from such a regional system.

Yet, it hosts almost two-thirds of the global population.

Its vastness and rich diversity, along with the complexity of the challenges it faces, makes a human rights system for the Asia-Pacific more necessary now than ever.

Taking this step would yield enormous dividends for tackling the numerous economic, social and political issues confronting the region, including the unprecedented impact of the climate emergency and the digital revolution.

The question, surely, must be - if not now, when?

It is 30 years since States so clearly recognized the contribution of regional human rights arrangements at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights.

And if we look elsewhere, we see how integral these systems have been to advancements in other regions on human rights:

  • As a unique source of support to States in their efforts to meet their commitments under international law.
  • As a way of bringing human rights home - through increasing accessibility for all stakeholders, playing a prevention role and providing an additional layer of protection and remedy, particularly at times of crisis.
  • And as an avenue for responding effectively to local and regional priorities, complementing both the global human rights architecture and national institutions.


The idea of a regional mechanism for the Asia-Pacific is not new.

Discussions have taken place since the 1990s, when States convened regularly under the Asia Pacific Framework for Regional Cooperation.

The breadth and diversity of the region means one unified architecture may be difficult to achieve.

But this should not discourage us from exploring alternative pathways and building on those platforms that already exist.

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights is an example of what can be achieved at the sub-regional level, and I hope that its protection mandate will continue to strengthen and evolve.

The Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission of the OIC also plays an important complementary role for its Member States.

And I would welcome discussions on a mechanism that brings together Pacific States.

In parallel to these sub-regional initiatives, other positive developments have emerged.

Including civil society efforts and regional platforms built by National Human Rights Institutions.

Today, I encourage you to take stock of these experiences, as well as valuable lessons from other regions.

To identify concrete steps towards making a regional system a reality.

Your commitments and pledges today can write a bold, new chapter for human rights in the Asia-Pacific region.

A fitting legacy for this year of commemoration, reflection and, most importantly, action.

As ever, my office is ready to support you in this journey.

Thank you very much.