The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) was an initiative undertaken after the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) to retain dialogue and to address issues of human rights in Asia. AHRC were registered in 1984. Lessons observed from the challenges faced by human rights movements in Asian inspired the AHRC to be more results driven in securing human and legal rights. A series of regional, sub-regional and country-based consultations across a host of organisations in Asia formed the core of its work centred on the overall theme of introducing an Asian Charter for Human Rights. The idea of the Asian Charter was to reaffirm the UN Declaration on Human Rights but at the same time, the idea sought to try to identify the obstacles to the implementation of this convention in the local context. These consultations were extensive and were summarized in the “Asian Charter for Human Rights – Our Common Humanity”, which was adopted at a large gathering held at Kwangju, South Korea.
It was identified that there was a need to shift from the mere teaching of human rights to address practical problems of the implementation of human rights which was at the core of the AHRC strategies post 1994. This was inspired by a declaration by the then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who said words to the effect that the period of articulation had come to an end, and now the AHRC should deal with resolving problems of implementation.
The AHRC’s consultations with local human rights activists and partners and the study of the history of conflicts in the region informed the AHRC that from the point of view of human rights theories, all problems surrounding the implementation of human rights in developing countries were summed up and addressed in Article 2 of the declaration of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 2 specified that state parties which sign the UN declarations should also create measures for legislative, judicial, and administrative measures for the implementation of rights.
The AHRC realized that violations relating to Article 2 of the ICCPR in terms of each country needed to be thoroughly studied and understood if organisations are to make an effective intervention for achieving changes in terms of the implementation of human rights. In order to achieve this, they required partners and there was a need for extensive training of partners towards this approach. In 2001 the AHRC initiated a bi-monthly magazine called ‘Article 2’, the only magazine produced so far within the global human rights movement that was entirely devoted to the problems relating to the Article 2 of the ICCPR. The AHRC encouraged its partners to contribute to the publication by gathering information at the grassroots level about the violations that were taking place at the institutional and structural levels. The AHRC termed this approach as “moving from ‘micro to macro’ one”. What the AHRC meant by this was that it is by the study of individual violations that the AHRC could come to an understanding of the institutional and structural roots of such violations. This publication, which was later made into a quarterly magazine, was published for 17 years. All the past copies are available at http://alrc.asia/article2/. In these reports, there is a wealth of information from10 countries in Asia in terms of human rights violations and the motivations behind them. The AHRC realized that the most effective way to gain insight into the violations at grassroots level was to engage in a single theme campaign; the selected theme was the prevention of torture and ill-treatment, particularly at police station levels. This was a unique approach because other international organisations concentrated on torture and abuse of rights mainly of political prisoners. The AHRC’s view was that in developing countries, most tortures take place at police stations in the course of “criminal investigations”, which relied heavily on the use of torture to extract confessions even for petty crimes. In order to illustrate this, the AHRC collected stories of individual torture victims and the numbers began to swell as the work progressed. The AHRC trained its partners to provide various support services to victims of torture.
The AHRC recognised that legal remedies were very difficult to obtain, so started an advocacy campaign by submitting ‘Urgent Appeals’ to the UN and requesting their network to write relevant government authorities to inquire and to provide relief to the victim. As the numbers of such cases increased, the AHRC subjected them to deeper studies to establish patterns of violations. The AHRC were able to attract funding particularly from Scandinavian bi-lateral donors such as SIDA in Sweden, DANIDA in Denmark, and the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in Denmark in addition to MISEREOR and Bread for the World. With this support, it became possible for the AHRC to fund local partners and to train local groups with a specific interest on the issues of torture prevention and Article 2. The AHRC produce an annual report on the status of human rights in Asia. During the 2000’s the AHRC expanded its vision and activities using the same methodology to address the whole criminal justice system.
The final stage of development, to date, of the AHRC was to develop a remit based on the framework of Sustainable Development Goal 16. It was the logical step to their previous research which highlighted the links between human rights abuses caused by defective public institutions as being one of the main causes of poverty in Asia. Over the years, the work and results of the AHRC has been recognized through prestigious awards. These awards include the Kwangju Prize for Human Rights (South Korea) in 2001 and the Right Livelihood Award (Sweden) in 2014.
The AHRC Strategy
AHRC has developed a set of strategies for creating result-oriented debates and for placing human rights at the centre of Socio-Economic-Political-Cultural discourse. These are as under:
- Folk Schools – AHRC organised week-long thematic discussions by inviting experts and practitioners from different fields of human rights, from, the judiciary, civil society and human rights organisations, academia, the media and activists. The Folk Schools have in-depth presentations, debate and knowledge production. It is defined as a co-learning space.
- Urgent Appeals – Urgent Appeals are filed against human rights violations to create pressure on the authorities to take immediate action to stop the violation and ensure protection of the affected person, families or the community. Usually, basic information and facts are provided by an organisation working on the ground and the AHRC verifies the facts. After verification a detailed Urgent Appeal is drafted and circulated in international circles of human rights organisations, activists, authors, journalists. If a matter is to be raised in a particular country, then they send an Urgent Appeal to a list of around 4,000 contacts but if the matter concerns a larger issue which may interest outsiders as well, AHRC issue the urgent appeal to a list of about 48,000 persons and organizations throughout the world. Thus, the aim of an urgent appeal is not to get redress from court, but to generate public pressure. A draft letter (Urgent Appeal) is provided to the receiver, and they can address these appeals to the concerned authorities with just one click.
- Cases for Judicial or Legal Action – Cases are those which are taken up mostly in courts. Either AHRC or its partner helps a victim to file the necessary papers in court and pursue it through lawyers assisted by paralegals or in some rare cases, when it is not taken up in the court, it may directly be taken up with a particular authority; for example, the Chief of the Police Force.
- Statements – A statement can be on a single or a general issue. A single issue may be the case of torture, rape, child abuse, deprivation of allowance for a poor person etc. A general issue could be the common practice of detention on remand without a court hearing or filing fake charges, or a persons’ deaths by suicide who cannot repay their debts, often in micro-credit loan issues, or a Dalit issue etc. The idea of a general statement is to create a public awareness about a problem and to seek and encourage a public reaction.
- Internship – AHRC used to have an Internship Programme, in which it invited young human rights activists, to Hong Kong for a period of 3 months to acquire knowledge on various aspects of international law, UN Systems, and learnings from different countries, advocacy techniques, use of information technology etc. It used to be an effective platform for cross-learning, and give a fresh overview to AHRC as well as to the interns, enabling them to bring new aspects of human rights to the AHRC, however, no interns have been recruited for this current project.