ASIA: Failed criminal justice institutions in Asia and its impact on human rights in the region

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to inform you about the side event that it is jointly organising with the Right Livelihood Award Foundation – Sweden/Switzerland, The Bread for the World: Protestant Development Service, OMCT: World Organisation against Torture, and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation on 7 March 2016 at Palais des Nations coinciding with the 31st Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council – Geneva, Switzerland.

1. Mr. Basil Fernando – Attorney-at-Law, Director, Programmes and Policies, ALRC & Right Livelihood Laureate 2014;
2. Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan – Secretary, Odhikar Bangladesh & Lawyer Supreme Court of Bangladesh;
3. Mr. Gerald Staberock – Secretary General, OMCT;
4. Dr. Sergei Golubok – Human Rights Lawyer, Russia.

Mr. Bijo Francis – Executive Director, ALRC
Welcome speech: Mr. Sharan Srinivas – Director of Research and Adovcacy, Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Universal human rights norms and state obligations to protect and promote human rights are unachievable without suitably functioning domestic justice institutions. This is because only good justice frameworks can breath life into human rights guarantees.

The police, prosecution and the judiciary are vital tools in human rights work. These institutions form the central architecture of the machinery tasked with two important and inseparable roles: of being a deterrent to human rights violations; and when violations occur to be the organ that can prescribe and provide remedies.

Unfortunately, in the Asian context, most states use the police, prosecution and judiciary to restrict or violate human rights. Asian states maintain these three vital institutions as pliable instruments that they could use to limit freedom and deny dignity to their own people with impunity.

Most Asian states allow police to be corrupt and politically subjugated to the political parties or persons in power. The use of torture with impunity, and gross human rights abuses like extrajudicial executions and disappearances, incommunicado detentions and absence of accountability are promoted within the police force.

The judiciary is manipulated to be subservient to the governments, with limited freedom to carry out work professionally. In countries like India where the judiciary enjoys relatively higher degree of professional independence, the institution is braced into a non-functioning condition for practical purposes of the common citizen by the state depriving the judiciary of resources it requires to meaningfully undertake its functions, so much so that decades long delays have become the defining character of the institution.

States allocate almost no resources to modernise crime investigation. In most Asian states, even simple processes and facilities like the forensic examination of crime scenes, DNA tests and even fingerprinting facilities are not made adequately available to crime investigators. Dependence on oral evidence is such that often without a confession statement a crime investigator cannot start investigating a crime. Hence custodial torture has become a norm in crime investigation rather than an exception.

Similarly, the role of the prosecutor in most Asian states is reduced to be a government employee that lacks professional knowledge and capacity to undertake independent prosecutions. In fact due to the appalling nature of crime investigation in the region, prosecutors have no meaningful role to play in prosecutions. The situation is such that the office of the prosecutor in Asian states does not attract good and talented young professionals any more.

Unfortunately nuanced knowledge of the appalling nature of Asian criminal justice institutions has lost its position from the centre stage in international discourses. The evolution of international consensus and momentum during the 1980s to discuss and professionally improve the capacity and quality of criminal justice institutions as a vital requirement to accomplish sustainable human rights guarantees has reduced itself by mid 1990s.

While the global human rights movement has branched out, for good reasons, into specialised clusters of human rights, the movement appears to have unfortunately forgotten about criminal justice institutions that are vital to realise these guarantees. So much so, international documents like (i) Code of conduct for law enforcement officers, 1979; (ii) Basic principles on the independence of judges, 1985; (iii) Basic principles on the role of lawyers, 1990; (iv) Guidelines on the role of prosecutors, 1990 have all vanished from the limelight that these documents once enjoyed.

At its best, the importance that has been attributed to criminal justice institutions in Asia by the global human rights movement and the member states of the UN have been limited to human rights training to law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, lawyers, and judges, forgetting that these agents of change do not have the required environment and resources to implement the training they receive. In Asia, the laxity of the global human rights movement to keep a focus on improving the criminal justice apparatus has had its unavoidable impact.

Today in Asia, justice institutions, particularly the elements of the criminal justice institutions have become the single largest impediment to human rights guarantees. Asian states use the police, prosecution and judiciary to silence and oppress human rights defenders, and the communities that these defenders represent. The criminal justice process has become a fear generating and oppressive tool of the state rather than the guarantor of justice. This situation must change if one thinks seriously about achieving positive change and sustainable development in the countries of Asia.

The side event jointly organised by the Asian Legal Resource Centre – Hong Kong, The Right Livelihood Award Foundation – Sweden/Switzerland, the Bread for the World: Protestant Development Service, OMCT: World Organisation against Torture, and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, is an attempt to rekindle the debate about the vital link between criminal justice institutions and human rights from the Asian regional perspective.

We cordially invite you to attend and participate in this event to be held at Palais des Nations on 7 March 2016 at Room number XXI from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm.


Contact in Hong Kong:
Mr. Md. Ashrafuzzaman

About Admin

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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