(Bangkok, 10 December 2009) The Asian region is lagging behind other regions in promoting and protecting human rights. It must catch up with others on this front if it is going to ensure human dignity, long lasting peace and sustainable development in the region, says Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) in conjunction with the International Human Rights Day on December 10.
Although many Asian countries have supported the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action during the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, human rights remain illusive in many Asian countries.
In South Asia, many countries continued to be plagued by wars and conflicts, causing hundreds and thousands of civilians killed and many more displaced from their homes; many live in deplorable conditions. Fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, association and assembly continued to be suppressed while discrimination based on caste, race, religion and gender remain widespread.
In Southeast Asia, despite the relatively stable political and economic development conditions compared to South Asia, citizens and human rights defenders continue to be under constant threats from many draconian and restrictive laws that deprive their fundamental freedoms and rights. In Burma, more than 2,000 political prisoners are still incarcerated, including Aung San Suu Kyi who is under house arrest. The failure to adopt a human-rights-based approach in dealing with conflict situations in the southern Thailand and the Philippines has also prolonged and worsened the conflicts and sufferings of the people in those countries.
In North East Asia, while many countries have attained developed nation status such as South Korea and Japan, the protection of human rights has yet to be institutionalised fully. Japan has yet to establish a national human rights institution to address human rights issues and in South Korea, the National Security Law continues to linger above civil society movements and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea is confronted with increasing severe restrictions imposed by the new government. Economic advancement in Mongolia has been marred by exploitation of natural resources by multi-national corporations at the expense of sustainable environment. In China, the impressive economic development comes along with increasing gap between the rich and the poor, threatening the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by the majority population in the country.
The establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights is no doubt a right step in the direction to accelerate the development of human rights promotion and protection in Southeast Asia. In the same spirit, FORUM-ASIA urges the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to undertake similar efforts to establish its own sub-regional human rights mechanism in order to realize the full enjoyment of human rights in South Asian region.
Many have predicted that Asia will be the engine of global economic growth in the coming future and the center of global economic development will shift to Asia. This economic development will be compromised if there is no genuine and long lasting peace in the region. FORUM-ASIA strongly believes genuine and long lasting peace will not be achieved unless and until all human rights are respected, especially those of the minorities. Economic development should go hand in hand with human rights promotion and protection to ensure human dignity and human development. It is with this firm belief, FORUM-ASIA further calls on all Asian countries to:
1. Implement all recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations, especially in repealing and reviewing repressive laws suppressing human rights.
2. Strengthen the independence and effectiveness of national human rights institution in countries where they exist and independent and effective establish national human rights institution where they have not yet existed.
3. Implement the state obligations under international human rights treaties that have been ratified, especially bringing in line domestic laws with the international treaties and ratify other core human rights treaties that are yet to be ratified.