Why Asia’s human rights defenders remain defenseless
by Renato Mabunga
Human rights defenders from around the world gathered in Manila last week to consolidate “protection platforms” for human rights workers. The meeting highlighted various protection initiatives on the ground and the challenges for their implementation.
The event tracked various organizational protection systems and mechanisms as stopgap measures against violations of the rights of activists. It also mapped out effective engagement and cooperation with the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
In his speech, Michel Forst, the UN rapporteur, noted that Asian human rights defenders are the most threatened, intimidated or investigated.
They are also the most harassed or criminalized, and the most likely to be prevented from travelling.
Such violations and denials of fundamental freedoms have been aimed to discredit, silence and eliminate human rights defenders in the region, he said.
Forst observed that the space for civil society and human rights defenders in the Asian region has shrunk while state and non-state entities in Asia use “sophisticated patterns of attacks” to impede the legitimate work of human rights defenders.
Indeed, Asian human rights defenders are facing increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and information, on the rights to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly and the criminalization, vilification and use of judicial harassment in persecuting development workers and even environmental activists.
It is precisely because of the critical role of human rights defenders in promoting human rights awareness and debate at national and international levels that many find their own rights flagrantly violated by repressive governments.
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