Tomorrow, December 10, is Human Rights Day.
For the Human Rights Day 2010 the Asian Human Rights Commission presents the reports on the state of human rights in eleven countries in Asia; Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and Sri Lanka. The general picture that emerges is one of the failures of the states to carry out their obligations for the protection of people.
Serious defects are evident in the area of the judiciary. Judicial functions appear to be adversely affected by the absence of judicial independence as well as structural problems which deny the judiciary a place in terms of the doctrine of separation of powers. Judicial power itself is often restricted by constitutional and legislative limitations. Added to this is the problem of inadequate budgetary allocations for the administration of justice. This in turn affects the areas of the training of the judiciary as well as the availability of adequate numbers of judges to ensure the proper functioning of the justice system. Extraordinary delays often affect the possibility of fair trial. Lack of witness protection prevents many persons from obtaining justice. In achieving a higher degree of protection for human rights the problems relating to the judiciary require much greater attention in terms of the contextual problems that exist in the particular circumstances of many Asian countries.
Impunity is often guaranteed in serious violations of human rights by the prevention of proper inquiries into such violations. Inquiries are prevented, often due to political reasons. Development of the structural framework needed to guarantee credible inquiries into all violations of human rights is prevented by limitations in legislative measures as well as due to failures to ensure proper administrative measures.
Torture replaces proper investigations into crime in most Asian countries. There is widespread torture at the police stations and torture remains the modus operandi that has been quite accepted by the governments. Despite of the ratification of the United Nations conventions, particularly the Convention against Torture, Cruel and Inhuman Treatment or Punishment, the measures for implementation are seriously lacking. While there are some discussions of bringing legislation to make torture a criminal offense no speedy action is taking to ensure such legislation. Even where legislation is available such laws are often ignored due to the lack of adequate arrangements to ensure investigations into torture and to ensure criminal and disciplinary action against the abusers. The governments in the region and the United Nations' agencies dealing with human rights need to scrutinise this issue carefully and find credible solutions to prevent the widespread use of torture that exists now.
The absence of protection affects not only civil rights but also economic, social and cultural rights. Large scale poverty still exists in Asia. Starvation and malnutrition is often reported. However, there are no speedy mechanisms to deal with such situations. The problems of food and water are caused, not by the absence of resources but are due to administrative failures that allow for neglect. The Millennium Development goals do not appear to have been given adequate attention in the countries of the region.
The poorer sections often complain of problems of arbitrary deprivations of their limited possessions including their places of habitat. Land grabbing and displacement is a problem that is heard from many countries in the region. Adequate legal mechanisms do not appear to exist to safeguard the basic rights of people relating to their lands and adequate protection against arbitrary measures that lead to impoverishment.
All forms of violence committed against women, communities and minorities due to discrimination based on gender, caste, race and religion are practiced in many parts of Asia. In these societies, women have to face the constant threats of sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, acid throwing, dowry deaths, honour killings and forced marriages. The discriminatory practices in existing legislation, no proper investigation mechanisms and the failures of the judicial system have resulted in the impunity of perpetrators.
Arbitrary deprivation of civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights is often the cause of the graver forms of human rights abuses such as forced migrations which also often leads to trafficking of women and children. While the reports on all these issues are many there does not appear to be any visible attempts to resolve these long standing problems.
All throughout Asia there are clear signs of the people being more aware of their rights and they are making great efforts to improve the enjoyment of their rights. The hope for a better future lies in these initiatives by the people themselves. However, the government response to these initiatives is wholly inadequate. The governments should make greater efforts to improve the protection mechanisms for civil rights and economic, social and cultural rights.
Pre-print releases of the country reports are available online at: http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2010/