Professor Chris Sidoti is one of Australia’s most experienced human rights advocates and practitioners. He has contributed to human rights in Australia and internationally over many decades, through national human rights institutions, NGOs and United Nations human rights mechanisms. He was a member of the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar from 2017 to 2019 and is currently a commissioner on the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestine Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel.
Chris was Australian Law Reform Commissioner (1992-1995) and Australian Human Rights Commissioner (1995-2000). He is on the boards of the Human Rights Law Centre and of St Francis Social Services and on the Human Rights Council of Australia.
Chris was also one of the driving forces behind the establishment and growth of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, working with it and their members to make them a key part of the national and international architecture promoting and protecting human rights.
Chris was also involved with others in the region in the development and adoption of the influential Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity 2006.
Chris has generously shared his knowledge and expertise with grass roots human rights defenders as a trainer on DTP’s programs:
“For over 30 years, DTP has been a leader in the Asia-Pacific region. DTP is able to combine both information of a very high standard and human rights expertise with strategic advice and assistance. DTP is not an academic institution. It doesn’t teach by way of lectures or by way of formal coursework. Rather, it emphasises making expertise available to community-based activists so that they learn from each other as much as from the experts how best to do the work of human rights.”
Chris has been a campaigner for human rights, peace and justice since he was at school – involved in campaigning to end the Vietnam war and apartheid in South Africa. He has seen and been part of movements that have succeeded, and others that are continuing, in Australia and globally. With this perspective he says
“Human rights training is a tool to equip leaders, generation after generation, who will stand with the people to explain what legal obligations governments have, and to assist people to claim their rights. DTP is doing a fantastic job.”
Against the backdrop of rising authoritarianism, Chris considers the human rights situation in the Asia-Pacific region and in the world as a whole is worse now than it was 30 years ago. However, he believes some progress has been made in terms of the commitment and determination of democratic movements. With all of his experience, Chris does not see progress in the human rights situation globally as an “unbroken, steadily rising slope”. Instead, he thinks it is like a roller coaster.
“We can only hope, when we are at the bottom of the slope, that we will get to the top of the slope, and we need to be determined that, next time we get to the top, the human rights situation will be better than the last time we were at the top of the slope. And that’s what I work towards achieving.”
Reflecting on the situation in Myanmar, Chris recognises the considerable achievement of the National Unity Government in holding its ground against the military junta through its courageous work in Myanmar and through international campaigns and advocacy.
The Myanmar situation reminds us, said Chris, why human rights training is very important for people who have the potential to play leadership roles within democratic movements. Chris has contributed to DTP’s Myanmar Diaspora program training Myanmar human rights and democracy advocates as they work to restore democracy to Myanmar and to build a new inclusive and rights respecting Myanmar.
“Human rights training is very important, especially for those who are going to play leadership roles within democratic movements. I don’t expect that most people who are taking part in these kinds of uprisings will be experts in human rights law and they don’t need to be. But I do expect that they will be aware of the issues that human rights address.”
Chris sees one of the values of DTP is its engagement with generations of leaders of struggles for human rights and democracy in the region, and the opportunities this presents for sharing knowledge and building links between older and younger advocates, between movements and across borders.
“DTP has trained thousands of community-based activists in the past 30 years. Those trainees play an important role on the ground in building human rights respecting societies in their own countries. Many of them later go on to be the leaders of their country’s human rights struggles. DTP should be very pleased with the results it has achieved. I know its alumni are very grateful for what they have learnt. And that is the strength of DTP.”