ASIA: Gwangju aspires to be a human rights city

The following statement based on the speech delivered by Mr. John Joseph Clancey (Jack), a lifelong human rights activist and the Chairperson of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Gwangju, South Korea on June 2, 2014

The AHRC has a policy of remaining neutral in regard to party politics. Therefore, the AHRC is not as an organization offering any support for Dr. Yoon’s candidacy. However, I am very happy to be here, in my personal capacity, to support Dr. Yoon in his campaign to be the Mayor of Gwangju. I have known Dr. Yoon since 1998, when the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) launched the Asian Human Rights Charter “A People’s Charter.” At that time, Dr. Yoon was co-chairperson of the Gwangju Citizen’s Solidarity, which collaborated with the AHRC to launch the Charter. Dr. Yoon has been an active member of the Board of Directors of the Asian Human Rights Commission since 2001. He has travelled to a good number of Asian countries, to listen and learn first hand about the human rights concerns in these countries, and that some of these countries lack the basic infrastructure to maintain the rule of law. He has also been able to learn about those conditions from the reports made by the AHRC.

Both myself and Mr. Basil Fernando, the second awardee of the Gwangju Human Rights Award, in our individual capacities are offering our support to Dr. Yoon. We believe that Dr. Yoon’s track record, of concern for the people in need of any kind, including human rights and those working for the rule of law, demonstrates that he has the qualities, the vision, and the desire to support those who are working for these goals across Asia. I have often heard Mr. Basil Fernando referring to the example of the spirit of the Gwangju people in fighting for their rights and democracy.  Mr. Fernando was made aware of the unique history of Gwangju by Dr. Yoon.

South Korea has achieved the first stage of democracy. That is something to be proud about. However, the problem about the first stage is that it can easily be threatened and severely undermined by its opponents. Therefore, the only prudent option for safeguarding democracy is to deepen and expand democracy. This can only be done by people who are thoroughly committed to ensure that their societies will entrench the respect for the dignity of each person through measures that will help democracy to put even deeper roots within the country and within the consciousness of every person. This requires the kind of leaders who value democracy as much as they value their own lives. Both Mr. Fernando and I are of the view that Dr. Yoon is such a person. This is the reason why we support Dr. Yoon. He has proven himself to be a man who is thoroughly committed to safeguarding the future of democracy in Korea by valuing the people’s freedoms above all things.

Asia is the only continent without a human rights charter. The AHRC selected Gwangju as the place to launch the Asian Human Rights Charter: A People’s Charter in 1998 because of the unique history and struggle of the people of Gwangju. I understand that there is a possibility of having a human rights centre in Gwangju that is concerned about human rights and the rule of law in Asian countries. I hope that if such a centre is established, the people of Gwangju will form links of solidarity with those people in other Asian cities who are struggling hard to develop effective rule of law mechanisms and structures that will protect all people, especially the poor who are the most adversely affected by the absence of any rule of law.

As Dr. Yoon has done, I hope that the people of Gwangju, particularly the young, would go out to visit Asian countries and to learn first hand the problems related to human rights and the absence of the rule of law, as well as to meet those people who are dealing with the victims, documenting the lawless situations, and searching for ways to change the existing structures. I also hope that such a centre can spread the spirit of Gwangju to the rest of Asia, and through the centre, the people of Gwangju will be able to learn more about human rights concerns of their counterparts in the rest of Asia. In such a manner, the centre, as well as the city of Gwangju will become a beacon of hope for Asia.

Concerning Asia, I would like to refer to some recent examples. In Pakistan, a young pregnant woman who had married a man that her family did not like, was a given summons to report to the court. Outside of the court building, she was stoned to death by about 20 people, most of whom were her relatives. None of the people standing nearby, including police officers did anything to stop the stoning. This form of murder is called an ‘honour killing.’ About one thousand honour killings take place in Pakistan every year.

In October 2013, two young women in Pakistan who were sisters were taken into police custody and raped while they were in custody. Later, the police officials threatened that if any one made a complaint, they would rape every woman in the village.

In November 2013, a prominent lawyer in Pakistan and five activists were arrested by security officials and then were disappeared. That means that they have not been seen again. According to official statistics from July 2010 to July 2013, 590 missing persons were extra-judicially killed in Pakistan.

In February 2014, a 56 year old Sri Lankan farmer who was with some other farmers sitting near their fields to chase away wild cattle from eating their crops were confronted by three police officers who had been drinking. The police officers then illegally arrested one of the farmers and tortured him while he was in custody in an attempt to get him to confess to a crime he did not commit. Apparently, this is another example of a case where the police officers needed to arrest someone in order to fulfill the requirement to close a case.

In May 2014, three young men were illegally arrested and detained by police officers in Sri Lanka. All three were severely tortured. One of the men, aged 17 was brought before the local magistrate, but the magistrate did not allow him to receive medical treatment. That young man later died in the remand centre in the arms of his brother.

Just three days ago, two girls, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh were raped, and then hung to death. When the family found the girls missing at night they went to make a complaint to the police to seek help. However, the police refused to offer any assistance and even refused to record their complaint. The two girls are from the Dalit community (formerly called ‘Untouchables’) and it is reported that the men who raped the girls did so believing that they could do whatever they liked with the members of the Dalit community.

Many of these abuses can happen because they are done ‘in the dark,’ in the sense that nobody knows at that time that they were occurring. If the people of Gwangju can learn of such incidents that are happening in the rest of Asia, they can then ‘shine a light’ on what is happening, such as by writing emails to the concerned officials in those countries, or writing to the consular offices of these countries in Korea, or having journalists in Gwangju write stories about these situations, it will help not only to stop individual abuses, but will also help people to understand about the breakdown of the rule of law in those countries. Hopefully with increased solidarity between the people of Gwangju and the people in these countries, and a growing consciousness about the reality, steps can be taken to help to create a rule of law situation in these countries.

Clause 10 of the Korean Constitution states that people have the right to dignity and the pursuit of happiness. This second part is similar to the United States where people are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This term ‘pursuit of happiness’ is based on a philosophical concept from the 18th century. This happiness was not about more food to eat, or drinking more wine or having a comfortable life, or buying a lot of goods. This happiness was about serving people and helping to build a better society. This was the true happiness that the authors of the Declaration of the Independence, like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and several others had in mind.

I think that Dr. Yoon is an excellent example of someone who is concerned about the pursuit of true happiness. He has initiated many programmes to help others and has also offered support to the programmes started by others. I am sure that all those persons whom he has helped are happy and I know that Dr. Yoon is a very happy man because of all that he has done to help others.

I personally hope that Dr. Yoon can be elected by the people of Gwangju as their Mayor. Knowing his good abilities, coupled with his experience in organization and administration, his sensitive conscience about the needs of others, I am sure that he would be involved in setting up a good group in Gwangju that would be concerned about the needs and problems of people in other Asian countries.

Gwangju has a great history of working for the democracy and human rights in Korea. As the world is becoming more integrated, I hope that the people of Gwangju, and their leaders such as Dr. Yoon, can reach out in solidarity to work for the rule of law and human rights throughout Asia. I also hope that the City Council of Gwangju could set a leading example by formally adopting the Asian Human Rights Charter: A People’s Charter and thus help to initiate the process to get governments in Asia to formally draft and adopt an Asian Human Rights Charter.

Gwangju aspires to be the cultural centre of Asia. I believe that genuine culture has to be rooted in and supportive of human rights, true democracy, and the rule of law. Given all that Gwangju and its citizens have done so far, I am confident that the citizens of Gwangju are fully capable of being the leaders in the struggle for human rights, true democracy and the rule of law in other parts of Asia. In this struggle, I am equally confident that Dr. Yoon, particularly if he is elected the Mayor of Gwangju, will play a key role in this movement for human rights, true democracy, and the rule of law in Asia.

About Jack: As a lawyer working in Hong Kong, he has been involved in social justice and human rights work since the 1960s. He is currently a member of the election committee that selects the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-111-2014
Countries : Asia,
Issues : Administration of justice, Human rights defenders, Rule of law,