Regional update for ASIA

February 29, 2016

A regional update on Asia is based on a submission to United Nations’ Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (15 February) and a report of the Regional Consultation of Citizens’ Voices held in Kathmandu (25/26 February) held under the aegis of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR).

The Asian Legal Resource Centre directs the attention of the Human Rights Council to the critical situation of human rights defenders in China, Bangladesh, and Thailand, who are facing dire threats to their person and profession:

At least 290 lawyers are currently being held in detention in China, for nothing more than undertaking their professional responsibilities. Many have had their licences revoked. Almost all of them have been detained in secret detention centres for periods ranging from three to six months before the government formally arrested them. …What is portrayed as the justice process in China is a military trial. It is presented as a civilian justice process that begins and ends with the questioning of the accused. The Procuratorate wields more power than a judge. In such an environment, where independent judges and lawyers are absent, the state holds the ultimate power to decide who must and must not be convicted. [see also:]

The National Council for Peace and Order, a cover created by the Thai military after the 12th military coup in Thailand, shares characteristics with its Chinese counterpart. The coup in Thailand witnessed to arbitrary arrests and detention of lawyers and human rights defenders. Human rights defenders and lawyers in Thailand undertake their work under extremely hazardous conditions. Many are prevented from traveling outside the country, having had their passports seized by the government. Like their Chinese counterparts, human rights defenders in Thailand do not have any domestic protection framework. The Judiciary in Thailand is neither independent nor mature. [see also:]

Bangladesh is today a state where human rights defenders face organised, state-sponsored persecution. For the past year, not one independently operated human rights organisation in Bangladesh has been spared government persecution. Today, conditions are such that independent journalists in Bangladesh face arrest, imprisonment, or death, if they dare criticise the government. The Judiciary in Bangladesh is perhaps the best ally of the government in suppressing free speech and in repressing human rights defenders in the country. Government intentionally misinterprets information gathered through the use of technology and successfully misuses the Judiciary in Bangladesh to detain human rights defenders and journalists on fabricated charges. Widespread, deep corruption and political servitude of judges are the two defining characteristics of the Bangladesh Judiciary. [see also:/]

Threats to human rights defenders in China, Thailand, and Bangladesh are rarely discussed in international forums like the UN. And, this is something that is widely discussed in the Asian civil society – that some member states of the Human Rights Council have played a negative role. They have largely remained silent about reprisals against human rights defenders and lawyers in the above three countries. Unlike some other member states of the Council, China, Thailand, or Bangladesh do not have armed conflict, and thereby maintain full administrative control, and should therefore be held fully responsible.

These and other matters will also be discussed at a side event that the ALRC is jointly organising with the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Bread for the World, OMCT and CIVICS on 7 March 2016 at Palais des Nations in Geneva. Speakers include: 
1. Mr. Basil Fernando, 2. Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, 3. Mr. Gerald Staberock, 4. Dr. Sergei Golubok.

The report on the Regional Consultation of Citizens’ Voices held in Kathmandu under the aegis of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) is more a personal impression written by Ghazi Salahuddin, a staff member of the The News, Pakistan:

The idea was to bring human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, politicians, policy makers and media representatives together to explore various human rights issues faced by the region, and try to work out effective strategies to promote human rights and democracy. How can we build a peaceful, people-centred, democratic and progressive South Asia? There was an ideological bias because most of the participants belonged to civil society organisations, social movements, labour unions and women’s rights groups.

A sense of gloom settled in my mind during the very first session..everywhere in South Asia, people are struggling to find justice and peace.

Take, for instance, the questions that Hameeda Hossain of Bangladesh posed: can we challenge the impunity of lawless law enforcement by both state and non-state actors, who silence the voices of citizens? How can we revive a culture of tolerance that ensures the participation of all as equal citizens in raising shared concerns? She spoke about the ‘national security’mentality that has allowed the arbitrary use of violence by state forces, which is evident in the narratives of encounter, crossfire, disappearances, custodial deaths and torture,“which have all been rejected as means of law enforcement by our constitutional and international guarantees undertaken by our states”.

South Asia, Hameeda Hossain said, has not been immune to the arms race started by India and Pakistan because of their historical hostility since partition. Their pursuit of ‘national security’ by building their military capabilities has been a long-standing threat to peace and stability.

Since the event was held in Kathmandu, the sensitive geopolitical situation of Nepal was inevitably discussed. During my flight from Doha to Kathmandu, I happened to read a long editorial in the New York Times on “India’s crackdown on dissent”. This hard-hitting comment, which argues that Modi’s party is behind the mob violence against critics of the government, underlined the importance of the new developments taking place in a country that has been so proud of its democracy. In fact, this backward movement in the largest country of South Asia was a major point of reference during the consultation. There were intimations of fascist and communal politics. It was noted that there are similar trends in some other countries of the region.

Throughout the consultation, there were repeated observations about the regression of democracy in South Asia. In such a situation, the defence of human rights becomes an issue of life and death. There is a need for collective movements. But first, there is a need to forge a common vision for South Asia. In the view of the delegates, this vision could emerge from the people’s commitment to creating a secular, democratic, peaceful and just South Asia that promotes equality and is free from all forms of discrimination. At the same time, one must recognise the rich diversity of cultures, religions, languages and identities that link the people of South Asia through their shared histories, geographies and cultural practices. Unity among the people is necessary for them to stand against oppression, discrimination and violence….Considering the present state of affairs in the countries of South Asia, there is an urgent need for the citizens to raise their voices and hold onto the promise of freedom with determination and courage.




One Response to “Regional update for ASIA”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: