HONG KONG: Announcement of a forthcoming conference on the Charter on the rule of law: The elimination of court delays to enable effective prevention of gross human rights abuses such as torture

Third session on the Charter on the rule of law: The elimination of court delays to enable effective prevention of gross human

This meeting will be held in Hong Kong from 16 to 22 September, 2007

The AHRC announced the launching of discussions with a view to develop an Asian Charter on the Rule of Law in 2005. The communication relating to this launch is attached below:

The AHRC organised two regional conferences on this already, one in April 2006 and the other in April 2007. A number of persons from several countries of Asia participated in these two meetings. Both meetings were devoted to the theme of judicial corruption and executive control of the judiciary as one of the fundamental obstacles for the protection and promotion of human rights in the Asian region.

In the statements of both these meetings the problems of the justice system was spelled out with considerable detail. These statements are available at the AHRC website.

Through these two workshops and the AHRC’s work in several countries of Asia for many years now we have also identified delays in adjudication particularly in matters relating to criminal and public law are also a major contributory factor creating gross human rights abuses and entrenching impunity. In previous work the AHRC has documented considerable information on this issue.

We believe that delays relating to adjudication should be raised as a high priority in human rights discussions. All attempts at entering into the ratification of UN conventions relating to human rights and even achieving local legislation for the purpose of improving the human rights situation may end up without any practical value due to delays in adjudication. Delays in adjudication are a practical method for the annihilation of rights. It also virtually makes all efforts to improve human rights by way of legislation and even international actions into a mockery.

A close study of the consequences of courts delays will find that the insurmountable difficulties created by such delays create political as well as social problems. Politically even the executive who may under certain circumstances want to improve legal protection may find that all their efforts could be sabotaged through delays in courts. Political parties engaged in competing with each other can sabotage the efforts any government by taking action in court when they are assured that these actions will drag on for many years and that during that period the proposed legislation cannot be implemented. Faced with this problem some governments try to attack the judiciary itself and put limits as to instances where recourse to the judiciary can be sought. Thus, the executive can try to exclude the judiciary from examining its activities. This affects constitutional law particularly in the area of judicial review and also public law. In the area of criminal law the executive may impose so many limitations on the powers of courts to intervene virtually leaving many matters relating to basic liberties and the rights of people purely in the hands of the executive.

At a social level the people often shun any recourse to courts as such recourse may cause more problems than they solve. As a result the people may find that recourse to corruption and bribery is a better method of solving their problems than recourse to law. Besides the people may also have criminal gangs and the underworld to resolve their disputes with other persons. The policing system can utilize this mentality of distrust of the judiciary to enhance their own positions and to be able to abuse police powers to enrich themselves by manipulation of the disputes among civilians. This in turn can create such a distance between the police and the civilian population which creates serious problems for the state as well as the community.

If human rights are to be implemented through judicial process then the issue of courts delays needs to be taken as one of the most central problems that need to be resolved. All citizens in the countries where this problem exists are profoundly aware of this problem and its impact. Those who are more aware are persons who have been denied justice due to such delays. Lawyers and judges and human rights activists are all aware of the extreme consequences of this problem.

On that basis we wish to call several persons who have gained knowledge on this issue through their own experiences and conduct a discussion with a view to articulate this problem as well as solutions for the problem as extensively as possible. We hope that this meeting will be able to come out with an initial draft outlining the basic aspects of this problem and identify the areas in which extensive work needs to be done in order to get a focus on this issue in political, legal and social discourse.

Launch of discussion on drafting Asian Charter on the Rule of Law
October 7, 2005

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

The AHRC is holding its advanced human rights study programme from October 9-14, 2005 in Hong Kong, at which participants from 10 nationalities will participate. To mark this occasion, the AHRC is launching a series of discussions aimed at drafting an Asian Charter on Rule of Law.

With a view to drafting an Asian Charter on the Rule of Law, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is launching a series of discussions on the relationship between the rule of law and the implementation of human rights. Wide consultations are planned to be held before writing and approving a final draft of this charter. This work is a follow up to the Asian Human Rights Charter-A Peoples’ Charter, declared in Kwangju, South Korea, in May 1998. The radical themes of the Peoples’ Charter need to be further developed from the perspective of the implementation of rights. The AHRC has in its work consistently identified the prevailing breakdown in the rule of law throughout Asia as the primary obstacle to the achievement of human rights. It is hoped that the discussion being launched will provide an opportunity for a detailed articulation of the problems relating to the breakdown of the rule of law by ordinary people as well as concerned groups and academics throughout Asia. These observations and recommendations will subsequently be compiled into a document that reflects the common problems being faced by people in all Asian countries and would suggest means through which these problems could be addressed and remedied.

Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law

There have been numerous attempts to promote democracy all over Asia, largely unsuccessful. Their failure lies in the absence of accompanying strategies to establish or enhance the rule of law. As a result, defective rule of law systems are able to distort and even destroy democratic institutions and practices. An election held without the rule of law, for instance, will merely become a farce legitimising the power of those individuals able to manipulate the process. A Parliament will become fraudulent when legislative power is abused to the detriment of basic freedoms. The absence of rule of law creates avenues for corruption, which spreads cancerously into the democratic system. All attempts to promote democracy must therefore be associated with equally strong attempts to establish and promote the rule of law.

Similarly, all human rights recognised today as universal depend on the existence of operative rule of law for their implementation. The right to life, for instance, depends largely on state institutions that are meant to respect, protect and fulfil people’s fundamental rights. If these obligations are not met, hunger, disease and the collapse of educational institutions will take place. The lack of effective investigation, prosecution and judicial mechanisms can also threaten people’s rights to life and liberty: innocent people can be subjected to arbitrary punishments, including death. Therefore, despite the proclamations of rights in national constitutions or through states becoming parties to international covenants, people will be deprived of the enjoyment of rights in the absence of rule of law. The common Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises this when it obligates state parties to take legislative, judicial and administrative measures to uphold human rights.

Breakdown in Rule of Law and Key Institutions

Vast obstacles are faced in all countries of Asia by those attempting to uphold or promote the rule of law. In some countries, the principle of the rule of law itself is rejected on the premise of maintaining order with or without law. To this effect, the law is regarded by officials and bureaucrats as an obstacle to a country’s development and social stability and is at times superseded by way of executive orders. One consequence of this is the transformation of law enforcement officers into order enforcement officers. Another consequence is that barbaric acts-massacres, large-scale disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture-are committed by the police and other authorities regardless of legal or constitutional restraints. Many governments also neglect to provide the basic financial and other resources for the proper functioning of law enforcement agencies and even the judicial system (courts). These include staff salaries and benefits, training facilities and facilities needed for investigations, such as forensic science equipment. This means that even when laws exist on paper they cannot be enforced because personnel in many institutions claim that they are incapable of carrying out their mandates due to resource limitations.

The primary institutions responsible for the administration of justice, such as the police, prosecution and judiciary, are now facing significant problems. Some of these are caused by the historical development of these institutions, which may have been hampered by colonialism, feudal traditions, inherent societal discrimination and periods of internal conflict or civil war. Others are related to the lack of independence enjoyed by these institutions to perform their duties with competence and integrity; often attempts are made by political authorities to manipulate the institutions for their own interests, thereby affecting their objectivity and impartiality. Without studying these causes and making deliberate attempts to develop these institutions, it is not possible to prevent the institutions from becoming obstacles to effective rule of law. It is also important to study how the necessary political environment for the rule of law to flourish can be created. Such studies should thus be an important component of this series of discussions.

The defective policing institution in many countries is a key obstacle to the actualisation of the rule of law. Police behaviour often resembles that of the military or paramilitary forces. Such policing is unfriendly to civilians and tends to use force as its working method. Torture often becomes a common and endemic practice as a result of such policing.

Prosecution mechanisms also have fundamental problems that affect their upholding of the rule of law. In some countries, the prosecution is directly controlled by the State and used for political purposes; false charges against political opponents of the State are a common occurrence. Similarly, the prosecution mechanism in many places bases its decisions not on the rule of law but on extraneous factors, such as political pressure. Such pressure is greater in systems where no separate prosecution function exists so that the same department is responsible for state affairs as well as criminal prosecution. At times of civil conflict, practices contrary to international norms, such as state prosecutors acting as defence counsel for military and police officers accused of gross human rights abuses, have occurred in certain prosecution systems. These officers have then been advised by their counsel to fabricate statements and other evidence, which, in turn, affects the overall morale and credibility of the prosecution department.

The judiciary is another faulty institution which needs to be addressed when considering obstacles to the rule of law. Several Asian countries do not recognise the principle of an independent judiciary. Where the principle is recognised, there is often a lack of competent and qualified judges. In other countries, political regimes impose severe restrictions on the judiciary, even bringing about constitutional limitations on judicial powers. The appointment and promotion of judges as well as other administrative processes are used as leverage, preventing them from acting independently.

Supervisory mechanisms to ensure the rule of law and human rights must also be studied. In some countries, such mechanisms do not exist at all while in other countries their actual capacity for intervention is limited. Many such mechanisms suffer from limited mandates and a lack of resources. Together with institutions, the justice and legal systems in Asia must also be scrutinised. The problems faced by marginalised sectors of society in obtaining legal redress are a significant aspect of the breakdown in the rule of law. These groups, which, in fact, are a majority in the region, are often entirely excluded from the legal process. Some of these exclusions have occurred throughout history. Women, Dalits, indigenous peoples and religious minorities are often those deprived of all access to law.

Anti-terrorism and emergency laws are another aspect of the increasingly repressive nature of legal systems in Asia. The use of such laws removes all forms of legal protection. It is for this reason that torture, mass killings after arrest and disappearances have taken place while such laws are in operation. Towards an Asian Charter on the Rule of Law The issues mentioned above as well as many others make it essential for there to be a genuine consideration on what is involved and what is needed to make the achievement of human rights a reality. The purpose of conducting Asia-wide discussions on this issue is thus to document these problems in detail and to debate these matters publicly in order to promote local education as well as to educate the international community about the real problems that need to be addressed if the rule of law and human rights are to be realised in Asia.

The AHRC calls upon everyone to take an interest in order to contribute to making this project-of taking concrete steps to promote the rule of law-a success. While focused discussions will be held in various countries, the possibility of having discussions through e-mail networks, the internet and other print media will also be explored. All comments and suggestions in regard to this proposal are welcome.

The Asian Human Rights Commission

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-149-2007
Countries : Hong Kong,
Issues : Judicial system, Rule of law,