Basil Fernando, Director, Asian Human Rights Commission & Asian Legal Resource Centre, Hong Kong
The Asian Human Rights Commission held the fifth consultation on the Asian Charter for the Rule of Law in Hong Kong from 20 to 24 April 2009, around the theme of concerns about the legal profession in Asia.
From the intense discussions among the participants of 16 countries and territories, what became clear is that the struggle for the rights of lawyers simply to perform their jobs and fight against impunity is in many places at an extremely critical and dangerous stage. Those people who have joined the fight and are faced with considerable difficulties even in their mundane day- to-day activities carry in themselves very deep frustrations and some suffer from depression. Such feelings affirm the honesty and dedication of those persons who are engaged in these efforts.
Under these circumstances, one of the first steps towards arriving at some more enlightened ideas on how to deal with our problems is to openly admit them and to articulate our frustrations. Often there is a feeling that to admit difficulties or even to talk about them is in some sense a betrayal to the cause, or a sign of weakness. However, when fellow travelers share their frustrations and do so in an effort to search for common solutions, we can join together on a path towards greater self-discovery, as well as greater awareness of what needs to be done to address the obstacles to justice in our societies.
Hearing one’s own voice articulating inner feelings about the difficulties we face, one communicates with others and also oneself on the deeper aspects of the problems that usually we only consider superficially. The very fact that people gather together and find space in which to talk is itself liberating.
Associated with opportunities for open speech on matters that are usually kept inside is the need for documentation to share the ideas that emerge with others who may not be directly involved. Proper documentation is another liberating act, hence this edition of article 2 (‘Concerns about the legal profession in Asia’, vol. 8, no. 2, June 2009). Sharing of documentation in turn encourages more dialogue. This is not the type of documentation that is made for the purpose of proving a case or building evidence that could one day be presented in a court of law. When in very difficult situations such as those in which many of us are working around Asia justice is still a faraway dream, a more important type of documentation is that which will create opportunities for people to come to terms with what is happening in their societies, and create opportunities for at least some sections of those societies, as well as people abroad, to understand these problems in greater depth.
The fifth consultation towards an Asian Charter on the Rule of Law was organized according to this understanding of dialogue and documentation, and we hope that it will have motivated participants to undertake similar exercises within their own countries and communities. It is critical that around the region we create more opportunities for people who face very difficult human rights and legal problems to talk things out and then find ways to document their ideas so as to move towards ways to solve these problems.
Ultimately, resolving difficult problems depends on political will. Political will is not a thing that develops in a vacuum. Nor does it materialize from above, in isolation from what is going on in the society. Even in the most authoritarian states, ordinary citizens articulate their problems in large and small ways. We need to take the trouble to document and disseminate this dialogue if we wish to create the political will required to deal with the many difficult problems that we face today throughout the region.