ASIA: 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

(Hong Kong, December 8, 2008) “There is no getting away from the fact that despite 60 years being passed after the UDHR, the actual enjoyment of human rights in most countries of Asia is even much less than what it was, 60 years ago. There is more talk about human rights but the systems in the region are mostly non rule of law systems. In the promotion of human rights in the region therefore, institutional reform should be the primary focus in human rights work” ” said Basil Fernando, director of AHRC on issuing a statement in regard to the 60th Anniversary of the adoption of the .

AHRC has stated that the primary obstacles for the protection of human rights are the defects of the systems of administration of justice. These defects are due to the lack of political will on the part of these states to invest adequate funds for proper administration of justice and very often due to deliberate attempts to suppress these institutions in order to place the executive above the law and outside accountability.

AHRC in its statements distinguishes rule of law countries with non rule of law countries. While there are many limitations on rights even in countries where systems of rule of law are well established, even the possibility of protection of rights does not exist, in countries where the systems of administration of justice themselves are fundamentally flawed. In rule of law countries like the United States and Europe in recent times, there have been serious problems manifested by such issues as the Guantanamo Bay detention centre maintained by the United States, new laws suspending civil liberties and anti-terrorism laws such as the Patriotic Act of the United States and similar laws in many European countries. Also many practices still persist in these countries, against the right of women and other rights relating to sexuality and other freedoms, and restrictions on civil rights imposed on migrants and minorities.

Most alarming is the attempt by the United States to reduce the absolute prohibition against torture and thereby to challenge one of the most well established principles in human rights. It is for the human rights community in these countries and the international community to utilize the space available within their political and legal institutions and to fight back against these serious inroads into human rights.

However, what is faced in non rule of law countries is something much worse. Even the possibility of fighting for these rights is prevented by the absence of institutions, or fundamental flaws in the existing institutions. The most prominent of such flaws is the predominant place acquired by the police, thereby crippling other institutions of the administration of justice. In many countries there is hardly anything that maybe called policing according to the rule of law. The police themselves become the main violators of rights and often arrest, detention and torture become means of extortion and undue enrichment by the police. The criminals often find their closest allies within the policing system. Organized crime is often a combination of mafia elements with sections of the local police. The police engage in arbitrary deprivation of life under many pretexts.

Encounter killings and self-defence killings are terms given to police killings of arrested persons. Besides this, the police also a play role in causing disappearances, kidnappings and attacks on journalists, human rights activists and political opponents of the ruling regime. Many of the authoritarian regimes in the region have developed many forms of political manipulations of the police. Within that set-up, the proper receiving of complaints and investigations into complaints cannot take place. The result is that people who suffer even grave abuses do not come forward to make complaints and various forms of fear psychosis prevail in societies.

The prosecutors can hardly do anything when the policing system itself engages in violating rights. Often, the prosecution systems like the department of the Attorney General in different countries come under the executive control of the existing political regimes. The judiciary itself is subjected to executive control and corruption. In many places, the legal profession is not allowed to play a significant role in protecting the rights of the people. Often, part of the legal profession itself is brought under serious corrupt practices when some lawyers merely become mediators carrying bribes to the police or others. Very large sectors of the legal profession are demoralized and frustrated, according to AHRC.

Mr. Fernando said that “what we have pointed to is a very serious problem. After 60 years of the UDHR, we cannot claim that the human rights situation in the region has improved. In many countries, both in civil and political rights as well as in economic, social and cultural rights, there is a very significant deterioration. We many talk about human rights more than before. The people may be demanding human rights more than before.

However in actual fact, violations of human rights have become far greater. Various forms of arbitrary deprivation of rights, torture, denial of fair trial, is wide spread in many places. There is more unemployment and despite greater education among women, the actual enjoyments of rights have not become any easier for larger sections of the population who are poor. Various forms of domestic violence and killing of women, depriving their personal liberties is so common. Anti-terrorism is often used to bring laws which suspend the rights of the entire population. Life often for many remains a nightmare.

On the occasion of the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the UDHR, these grim realities need to be reflected. And the governments and the people have to reckon with this serious deprivation of rights. Local and international communities need to develop their energies to fight for improvement of the institutions of protection of rights which means improvement of the institutions of the administration of justice.

The full statement AHRC may be found at:

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-041-2008
Countries : Asia, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand,