Human Rights Day: a selection of articles from Asian media that you may have missed

December 10, 2014
 I call on states to honour their obligation to protect human rights every day of the year. I call on people to hold their governments to account. And I call for special protections for the human rights defenders who courageously serve our collective cause,” UN Secretary-General stated in his message for Human Rights Day.  There is so much to report on this day, that I decided to focus on stories from 4 Asian countries (China (Hong Kong), India, Thailand, Bangladesh) which give an impression (not more than that) of how Human Rights Day is reflected in the media.
The first article “Responsibility for the protection of human rights is in our hands” appeared in the South China Morning Post of Tuesday, 09 December, 2014

The human rights project faces many challenges.

  • First, although states are obligated to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, they are part of the reason why these rights are not being realised. In many situations, states themselves are violators and, therefore, expecting them to safeguard human rights is unrealistic. To resolve this apparent conflict of interest, we stress the importance of having the rule of law, separation of powers, an independent judiciary and a free media. But, in reality, it has not been possible to assemble these power-controlling mechanisms in many nations.
  • A related challenge is posed by the Westphalian notion of sovereignty. A majority of nations do not like the idea of other states or international institutions pointing fingers at human rights violations within their territory. This mindset has not allowed the establishment of robust international mechanisms of accountability similar to those found in the arena of international trade or investment law. Consequently, when countries are unwilling to protect human rights, or incapable of doing so, abuses largely go unaddressed.
  • Third, since human rights are often invoked to serve political or foreign policy goals, they are pressed into service selectively. States, for example, ignore violations perpetuated by their allies. When human rights become a matter of political (in)convenience, their legitimacy in reflecting common universal values is undermined.
  • Fourth, because of the power enjoyed by the currency of human rights, their language is invoked to further any kind of personal interests. The overproduction of human rights tends to devalue their importance. Moreover, the excessive focus on individual rights means that adequate attention is not given to fulfilling one’s responsibilities of equally important collective societal goals.
  • Fifth, both recognition and implementation of human rights is not adequately inclusive. The lack of recognition of the rights of sexual minorities is a case in point. In terms of having access to enforcement remedies, “haves” are better placed than “have-nots”. State institutions also tend to allocate more resources to realising the rights of advantaged sections of society.
  • Sixth, corruption undermines the realisation of human rights in several ways. Apart from the misappropriation of funds meant to fulfil these rights, corruption can undermine the legitimacy of institutions entrusted to adjudicate human rights disputes. Corruption can also open the door for powerful private actors to exert their influence on states to seek economic favours.
  • Last but not least, the rise of China as a new world power will have implications for how human rights norms are interpreted and enforced in future. Both Western powers and China will have to adapt to this new reality. It is noteworthy that Chang Peng Chun, a Chinese academic and diplomat, played a critical role in drafting the universal declaration. Leaders are expected to lead from the front so China will find it more and more difficult to ignore the universal value of human rights and hide behind shields of sovereignty and “Chinese characteristics”.
  • Many steps could be taken to overcome all these challenges. But one single thing can make the biggest difference: people playing a vigilant role, both individually and collectively, to hold nations accountable.

Individuals are not merely bearers of human rights. They should also act as active protectors of their rights. It is worth remembering that the universal declaration expects that “every individual and every organ of society” shall strive to promote respect for human rights. ..However, if people are to play a central role in ensuring that various state organs respect human rights, an environment suitable for their bottom-up engagement has to be created. If formal institutions do not create such space and continue to trample on human rights, people will have no option but to challenge state power. Are governments all over the world listening to mass public protests? They ought to, before it’s too late.

[Surya Deva, an associate professor at City University’s School of Law, specialises in business and human rights, and comparative constitutional law]

Responsibility for the protection of human rights is in our hands | South China Morning Post.

The second article appeared in the Economic Times of India on 9 December 2014:  “Chairman of Indian National Human Rights Commission promises to strengthen human rights defenders”
The National Human Rights Commission will strengthen the human rights defenders in its strategy to firm up human rights culture in India and the world.
(Chairman Justice K G Balakrishnan of the Indian National Human Rights Commission)
Today, on 9th December, the day when the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) was adopted in 1998 by the UN General Assembly, the NHRC, India reiterates its resolve to strengthen the Human Rights Defenders as an integral part in its strategy to strengthen the human rights culture in India and across the globe,” said Balakrishnan in a statement issued by the Commission.  “The work of HRDs in partnership with the other state and non-state actors will have a far reaching impact in improving and strengthening the human rights situation throughout the country and also globally.“”HRDs have always been instrumental in fighting for the cause of human rights. However, their efforts were provided impetus through the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which was adopted by UN General Assembly on 9th December,” Balakrishnan stated
The third piece selected is: “Thailand faces serious challenges on Human Rights Day”, a post carried by the Bangkok Post of 9 December by Achara Ashayagachat, starts by saying:  “Tomorrow is our Constitution Day; others in the international arena know it as Human Rights Day. Many of us in Thailand feel that we don’t have either — at least for the time being and hopefully not for long…

The fourth article in the Financial Express of Bangladesh by Quazi Faruque Ahmed is called “Focus education

…The human rights issue is inseparably linked with education.  Article 26 of the declaration relates directly to education…The issue of human rights has practical relevance to human rights education. Human rights can only be achieved through informed people — a fact that interlinks rights-based education. Human rights education promotes values, beliefs and attitudes that encourage all individuals to uphold their own rights and those of others.  On 10 December 2004, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the World Programme for Human Rights Education to advance the implementation of human rights education programmes in all sectors. Building on the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education 1995-2004, the World Programme seeks to promote a common understanding of basic principles and methodologies of human rights education, to provide a concrete framework for action and to strengthen partnerships and cooperation from the international level down to the grass roots.

Unlike the specific time frame of the Decade, the World Programme is structured in consecutive phases, in order to further focus national human rights education efforts in specific sectors. The first phase (2005-2009) focused on human rights education in the primary and secondary school systems. The second phase (2010-2014) focused on human rights education for higher education and on human rights training programmes for teachers and educators, civil servants, law enforcement officials and military personnel. The third phase (2015-2019) will focus on strengthening the implementation of the first two phases and promoting human rights training for media professionals and journalists. In Bangladesh, there are ample scopes to include human rights education in the curricula of different tiers of education and in the relevant fields of both the government and non-government sectors.

The worldwide movement for Education for All, initiated in Jomtien in 1990 and reaffirmed in Dakar in 2000, is the most important commitment to education in recent decades. Efforts since the turn of the millennium have yielded significant progress. Yet the Education for All (EFA) agenda and the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are unlikely to be achieved by 2015. There is, therefore, a consensus on the need for a new and forward-looking education agenda that completes unfinished business while going beyond the depth and scope of current goals to address new challenges, reach the most marginalised and give more emphasis to equity, quality and learning. The recent education meet in Japan as a follow-up of the Muscat declaration has made these points poignant. The coming meet in Korea will throw light on a synthesis for sustainable development in education.

The power of the Universal Declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. It tells us that human rights are essential and indivisible – 365 days a year. Every day is a Human Rights day– a day on which we work to ensure that all people can gain equality, dignity and freedom. So human rights education is essential which will pave the way for achieving successes in several dimensions in the face of manifold impediments. Education after all is that light which removes confusion and darkness.

[Prof Quazi Faruque Ahmed is the Chairman, Initiative for Human Development (IHD).]


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