date: March 14, 2011
document id: ALRC-COS-16-19-2011
HRC section: Item 3: General Debate
An Oral Statement to the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council from the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organization in general consultative status
SOUTH ASIA: Legislation used to punish, not protect human rights defenders in South Asia
The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to raise grave concerns about the increasing insecurity, threats and obstacles faced by human rights defenders in Asia. In extreme cases, defenders are being subjected to torture, disappearance or murder by State-agents, with impunity. The lack of effective legal safeguards and protection mechanisms in the region must be addressed.
In reality, in a number of States legislation is instead being used to punish, silence and detain defenders. In India, defenders face charges under the National Security Act and Public Security Act, as seen in the case of Binayak Sen. A recent opinion produced by a Special Court against Teesta Setelwad, claimed that the defender’s communication with the UN concerning violence in Gujarat “infringes upon the morale of the country and that of its people.”
The Chhattisgarh, Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir governments are notorious for using such legislation against defenders who denounce violations committed during anti-naxalite operations. They are branded as sympathisers and detained. In Orissa State, defenders working on abuses by mining companies face a similar plight.
Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act and Bangladesh’s National Security Act are also being used to attack defenders. The Sri Lankan Defence Ministry has posted the names of lawyers on its website, accusing them of being traitors. Bangladesh’s National Security Intelligence agency closed media house Amar Desh in June 2010, after it had exposed corruption by the Prime Minister’s son and office.
In Pakistan, defenders are themselves becoming victims. Lawyer Mr. Zaman Marri was abducted on August 17, 2010, in Balochistan province. Marri was contesting cases in court on behalf of political prisoners and the families of the disappeared. Marri’s bullet-ridden body was found on September 5, 2010.
The ALRC has also highlighted in a written statement to this session, the increased insecurity of defenders in Nepal, which remains a grave concern.
The country still does not have an institutional and legislative framework that is able to address past and present human rights abuses and defenders dealing with past and current cases face various forms of threat. Lawyers appearing in cases have been bullied and threatened by the political groups that are active in the country. Attacks on journalists and human rights defenders are on the rise in Nepal, and no action has been initiated by the government to prevent them. The proliferation of armed criminal groups in the country’s Terai region, and the State’s inability to ensure the rule of law there, further exposes defenders to insecurity and abuses.
The ALRC deplores the Council’s incapacity to react effectively to the many accounts of widespread human rights abuses that it receives, including those against persons on the front lines of the fight to defend these rights.