ASIA: Freedom of expression and human rights defenders in Asian countries raised at the UN Human Rights Council

Date: March 11, 2010
Document id: ALRC-COS-13-14-2010
Speaker: Emerlynne Gil
HRC section: Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

A Joint Oral Statement to the 13th Session of the UN Human Rights Council from the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) and International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID)

ASIA: Freedom of expression and human rights defenders in Asian countries raised at the UN Human Rights Council

video from UN webcast archive

Thank you Mr. President. FORUM-ASIA, ALRC and INFID appreciate the reports of both Special Rapporteurs and their insightful analysis on the need for preventive measures. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief highlighted early warning signals of discrimination and violence on the grounds or in the name of religion or belief, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders made an analogous discussion of long-term and short-term triggers compromising the security and protection of human rights defenders.

We note with concern that one of the early warning signs of such discrimination and violence, specifically with regard to State actors, is manifest in domestic legislation which are in contradiction to international human rights norms and standards, even to their own constitutions in many cases. In this regard, we welcome the intervention made by the Indonesian government this morning that the constitutionality of the Blasphemy Law of 1965 is being challenged at the Constitutional Court, which is discriminatory and often used as a tool to target religious minorities. We urge other States to follow the commitment of Indonesia to address these issues in the most democratic and inclusive manner, and to seriously consider all the recommendations presented by the Special Rapporteur to serve as a guide in their review of domestic legislation.

Mr. President, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders identified speaking overseas on the human rights situation in their respective countries, as one of the short-term triggers leading to attacks against defenders, including women human rights defenders. We are very much disturbed to see a news item regarding a list of Sri Lankan human rights defenders and journalists, with each name having a corresponding �crime?of being involved in activism or journalism along with a �numerical rank? Some persons included in the list have publicly addressed their concerns over Sri Lanka�s human rights records at this Council and other international and national forums. As a result, they have had to remain outside of the country for fear of reprisals. To date, we have not heard of a response from the Sri Lankan government to this news item, despite two prominent defenders addressing a letter to the President of Sri Lanka in this regard. Is the Special Rapporteur aware of this list? We would like to hear how she could address this and other threats, intimidation and attacks on human rights defenders in Sri Lanka. In particular, is the Special Rapporteur aware of serious current threats of arbitrary arrest of prominent defender J.C. Weliamuna, the Chairperson of Transparency International Sri Lanka?

The Special Rapporteur also identified the election period as a time when defenders face heightened risks. Concepcion Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo, two lawyers and women human rights defenders, were among the 57 people brutally murdered on 23 November 2009 in Maguindanao, Philippines. We believe that this massacre is another clear evidence of the culture of impunity that has been pervading in the country for many years. Considering that certain countries in Asia will be having elections in the coming months, we would appreciate if the Special Rapporteur could further elaborate her views on how States should ensure the security and protection of defenders including women human rights defenders during this very critical time.

Lastly, Mr. President, we urge those States which have yet to respond to the requests of country visits by the Special Rapporteur – Sri Lanka and Philippines as well as China, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, among other countries, to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and allow her to effectively discharge her mandate.

Thank you, Mr. President.

About ALRC

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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