date: March 07, 2008
speaker: Sunila Abeysekera
HRC section: Item 2, Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissoner for Human Rights
A Joint Oral Statement to the 7th Session of the UN Human Rights Council from the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), and Pax Romana-ICMICA/MIIC
ASIA: Regional mechanisms and lack of progress in the adoption of frameworks
Thank you, Mr. President.
Madam High Commissioner, FORUM-ASIA, Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) and Pax Romana welcome your report and express our regret at the announcement of your departure from the Office. We wish to extend to you our deepest appreciation of your openness to interaction and engagement with human rights defenders from around the world.
Mr. President, the High Commissioner’s report contains the conclusion of the 14th Annual Workshop on the Framework of Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region, held in Bali, Indonesia, in July 2007. We place on record our regret at the slow pace towards the establishment of a regional human rights mechanism in the region, considering the reality that human rights defenders in Asia face increasing risks and challenges because of their work. This is evident in the Report by the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, (A/HRC/7/28) which reveals that the Asia-Pacific region accounts for the highest number of communications (31%) sent by her to governments.
We welcome the inclusion of a human rights mechanism in the proposed Charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and urge ASEAN member-states to ensure that such a body would be committed to the protection of all human rights of all persons. We also urge other sub-regions, particularly SAARC, to establish a similar body that would guarantee protection of human rights defenders.
We are concerned that the Bali Action Points adopted by states on 12 July 2007 and the theme chosen for the 14th Annual Workshop, which is extreme poverty, allow for the neglect of what we consider to be the most pressing human rights issues in the region. While we are well aware that extreme poverty creates an environment conducive to the violation of a wide range of human rights, in recent years, many Asia-Pacific countries have been confronted with political crises, such as internal conflict, states of emergency constitutional crises, and coup d’etat that have generated situations that call for our urgent attention.
We are gravely concerned about the inability of the High Commissioner’s office to establish a field-based presence in Sri Lanka, given growing evidence of the failure of national mechanisms to monitor on-going violations of human rights in the country. We hope that this Council and the OHCHR could work together with the government of Sri Lanka and other supportive States to create a framework for independent human rights monitoring in the country.
We also reiterate the key issues embodied in our Joint Statement of NGOs issued during the 14th Asia-Pacific Annual Workshop on Regional Arrangement:
First, we regret that after nine years of the adoption of the Tehran Framework, only a handful of countries have adopted a National Human Rights Action Plan. We welcome the initiative of those countries which already have National Human Rights Action Plans and urge these countries to ensure that these should be in accordance with international human rights norms, standards, and principles.
Second, we welcome the establishment of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the current efforts of more countries to establish the same. We would like to call for the strict observation of the Paris Principles for existing and new NHRIs, and welcome firm action in this regard, such as the recent decision to downgrade the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.
Third, we welcome the adoption and the initiative of some governments of human rights education programmes in their countries and strongly urge those who have not taken this initiative or adopted the same to immediately do so. We also believe that priority should be given to human rights education for all those involved in the administration of justice, such as judges, lawyers, prosecutors, and prison officials. We believe that the proper and effective human rights education of all those involved in the administration of justice is key to combating impunity and establishing the rule of law. The lack of proper investigations by the police, of witness protection, of prosecutions of perpetrators, combined with widespread corruption, must be addressed through administrative and legislative measures that must be implemented in full, in line with international standards.
Finally, we urge countries in particular Asian states to ratify all of the main international human rights instruments without delay and to seriously implement them in the domestic contexts.
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About the ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.