Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

[Blog] No stones unturned-Stories of victims and their families’ relentless search for truth and justice by Candy Diez

No stones unturned
Stories of victims and their families’ relentless search for truth and justice

candy diez

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel

Documenting cases in Northern Sri Lanka
The heat greeted me one afternoon as I sat in a vehicle patiently absorbing the passing scenery. My mind was set on the seriousness of the task before me, strangely in contrast with the calmness of the day.

I was on my way to meet the father of one of Sri Lanka’s disappeared human rights defenders.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj worked in the North and East of Sri Lanka as the Jaffna Coordinator of the Movement for People’s Struggle (MPS). The movement mobilizes people to stand against state repression of the Tamil community.

He devoted his time campaigning against human rights violations of civilians and human rights defenders in the North. He assisted the issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) as well. But most notably, Lalith extended support and worked on the issue of disappearances. The forming of several committees of Familiesof the Disappeared was attributed to his efforts in the districts of Trincomalee, Mannar, Vavuniya, Killinochchi and Jaffna.

He was travelling back and forth to his home and the northern areas during the conduct of his work. His father, although expressing alarm and concern, satisfied himself with asking Lalith to call each morning at 9:00 a.m. Lalith agreed and updated his father on his work and well-being.

It came as a shock one day when an unidentified person called and threatened Lalith’s father. His message was clear. Lalith should leave Jaffna or else he would be forcibly removed.

Lalith travelled to Jaffna on 9 December 2011 and needed to organize a press conference for the MPS for the International Human Rights Day on 10 December. He was with KuganMuruganandan, a close colleague. Both were seen to have left Muruganandan’s place at Avarangal around 5:00 p.m. They have not been seen since.

Allegations that the Sri Lankan army was behind the disappearances increased when Lalith’s engagements with the army were made public –these started before he went missing. The threatening call to his father was actually part of a series of threats Lalith suffered from both the military and the police in the North.

He was previously abducted by men claiming to be members of the army as he was putting up posters on 25 March 2011 in Mannar town. The posters demanded the Government release information on Sri Lanka’s disappeared. He was then blindfolded and detained overnight.

Another incident occurred on10 April 2011 when the Vavuniya police arrested him and a friend for putting up the same posters.

Two months later, the officers of the Killinochchi Army (Depo Junction) abducted him and he was interrogated for six hours. On 14 November in Jaffna, he was severely injured due to extensive beatings by unidentified men at a rally with the families of the disappeared.

Lalith attempted to file complaints and reported the incident. In his first attempt, the Mannar police refused to accept the case for the reason that he could not identify the persons involved in the act .The last incident of beating was filed at the Jaffna police station, but there was still no news on the progress of the case.

Lalith’s father shared that once,Lalith had asked him to come to Jaffna and see the pain of the Tamil families searching for their loved ones. He replied then that there is no need, for just the thought of the dangers associated with Lalith’s work and the possibility that he might disappear himself already brought him the same unbearable pain.

Aside from the emotional trauma, the family’s financial capacity was affected. The tea estate where the father works only pays 385 LKR (3 USD) each day. Before Lalith disappeared, he was helping the family in buying medicines, food, and paying for electricity bills.

The cost of witnessing the 1998 Riot in Indonesia

The rain was pouring when I met Nurhasanah.

Nurhasanah is the mother of YadinMuhidin, an Indonesian youth who disappeared in 1998.

In the morning of 14 May, Yadin was eager to watch theriot taking place in GriyaIntiSunterAgung. He soon returned home to eat lunch and to pray. At 1:00 p.m., however, a friend came and invited him again to witness the riot. He asked his older sister if he could still go. She responded positively and cautioned him to wear shorts instead of pants so he could move faster in case the mob would be dispersed and chased by the police.
By 2:00 p.m., Nurhasanah returned home and asked for Yadin. Upon learning that he was at the riot, she instructed the family to search and bring him back. For the next hours, the family scoured the area for Yadin, but he was nowhere to be found.

They later learned from one of Yadin’s friends that he was seen around GriyaIntiso. They sent a message through the friend instructing Yadin to return home. The friend named Rudi was able to speak to Yadin and relay the message. Shortly after, Rudi saw how a group of army members started arresting the people around the area.

After waiting for several hours, the father began checking with the local police at Gorontalo for news of their son. The police officer confirmed that Yadin was arrested but he was already released. When asked whether there was any official document about the arrest and release, the police officer denied his responsibility on the matter.

Still without Yadin, Nurhasanahand the rest of the family resumed their search. However, in spite of their efforts, he remains disappeared to date, his fate unknown to his family.

She was retelling this story the afternoon I came to see her. And unlike the rigid hard facts by which the incident was summarized, Nurhasanah was crying when she spoke of Yadin and how she longed to see her only son again.

She struggled and tried to keep her voice firm,her hands steady, as she recounted how her husband eventually became sick and broken with their son’s disappearance. He passed away without ever finding out what happened to Yadin. She spoke of how she remembers Yadin every night, and prays that if indeed he is dead, that he may be in peace, and that Allah may forgive his sins and bring Yadin to his side.

She told me how, in spite of extensive efforts to search and demand the Indonesian government’s attention and action on the disappearance cases, no positive action has been undertaken.

As we bade our farewells, she drew me to her and embraced me. In the midst of such grief, one always seems to be at loss for words. She whispered, “Please don’t forget us. Come back and don’t forget us.”

Despairing for decades

He is Thai and gradually became a friend last year. I knew his father was a victim of enforced disappearance. He had told me so himself, but still it surprised me that the case – that happened way back in the 70s, has not been documented. I asked him again to be sure, and he replied with the same statement, that it has never been documented.

So then, we began the process of our work. He was briefed about how we assist the families in our capacity to document, monitor and report cases of enforced disappearances and he told me how his father disappeared.

He was a young kid in school, when he came one day to find his mother crying and telling them that their father had gone. It was striking and heartbreaking to see, for he had never seen his mother cry and looking so broken.

Earlier that day, his motherwas with the father accompanying him to a bus stop for he was on his way out of town. Suddenly, two men from the bus stop approached her. Their words sounded menacing and she was told that the husband would be brought to the provincial administrator’s office for questioning. She protested and told them the village chief should first be informed, but the incident happened very fast. Two other men came out of a pick-up truck, handcuffed her husband and took him into the truck.

She was about to board the vehicle as well, when one of the men assured her that there was no need to come with them and she could follow them to the provincial administrator’s office later.
When she did go, there was no evidence of her husband, no information about the arrest and where he was taken. She didn’t realize then, that the incident at the bus stop was the last time she would lay eyes on her husband – handcuffed and brought to the pick-up truck.

She searched relentlessly, went to various police stations and spoke to different people – politicians, civil society, neighbors and others who would have knowledge of her husband’s whereabouts. But the search did not result in positive leads. Devastated, she suffered a breakdown after that but was forced to resume her work, her life for the sake of her three children.

Life took a seemingly normal course, until my friend resumed her mother’s search. He searched long and hard but similar to his mother’s experience, he soon faced a blank wall.

Then, he told me how empty it was growing up without a father to teach him things, no father to help in his education, no father to guide him in his early adolescent stages and towards adulthood. It brings him pain, he said whenever he remembers. This was something I could sense. But he has been strong and in the years without any word, evidence or support, he has made peace with the situation. . If in case he comes into contact with the person responsible for his father’s disappearance, he will tell him that he was already forgiven.

He told me as well, that the documentation was welcomed by him and his family. And it brings him peace knowing the search would continue and the incident be put in writing.

He also wished to keep certain identities confidential, thus the lack of names for the persons mentioned in the incident.

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Recalling these stories and remembering each of these people I have met, I thought of how one cannot help but bleed – a little and then some more, when hearing about the families’ stories. From how they learned of their beloved’s disappearance, the denial soon followed by anger and frustration with the endless search to locate their disappeared loved ones,coupled with that waveof grief, seemingly stretching out from every waking hour and towards the rest of their lives.

But as one colleague frankly phrased it, perhaps it is not enough for people to feel sad. While never forgetting the capacity to forgive and be at peace, one should allow one’s self to be angry – mad at how loved ones were snatched from families, never to be seen again.

As I was bringing the interview with Lalith’s father to a close, I asked for Lalith’s photograph – a standard practice in documentation work. His father was quick to say that they have no recent picture of him. I was prepared to accept that perhaps I could manage with an old photo, when suddenly one of Lalith’s sisters came up to me and handed me his picture.

It was a clearer copy, a recent one, the sister told me. She spoke of how, in one of Lalith’s visit, he took her aside and gave the photo to her. Lalith had purposely gone to a photo studio to have his picture taken so that he could leave it to her with instructions, that in case something happens to him, people might come searching. And that she should give the photo to whoever would come.

Perhaps it was that certainty in Lalith’s actions that left an ache. He knew that soon, the consequences of his extensive documentation work and organizing of the families in the North would catch up with him. And with that inevitable fate, he knew with the same certainty and hope that is humbling, that other human rights defenders would come searching, demanding for government action and continuing the struggle to stop enforced disappearances from further robbing a family of a loved one.

I came across a copy of Elie Wiesel’s writings recently. He was a survivor of the holocaust and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Reading his speech about the lessons from the holocaust, a particular paragraph stood out from the rest…

“…the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

It still rings true to this day.

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[Statement] AFAD Condemns Arrest of Family Members of Disappeared and FOD Members at the Conclusion of its Council Meeting

AFAD Condemns Arrest of Family Members of Disappeared and FOD Members at the Conclusion of its Council Meeting

AFAD3 December 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka – The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) concluded its week-long Council Meeting in Sri Lanka with a solidarity night together with local civil society organizations and family members of the disappeared. The night of sharing, video presentation, music and dancing ended with the arrest of six persons, including two elderly women family members of the disappeared, Ane Teresa Fernando and Ariyawathi de Silva; the Secretary of the Families of the Disappeared (FOD), Wasantha Ranile Kumara; Executive Director of the Right to Life, Mr. Philip Dissanayake; a vehicle driver and a friend. Their laptops, mobile phones and the key to the vehicle of Mr. Dissanayake, with plate number 59-9700 were taken into police custody. The victims were put into a police jeep by uniformed policemen, including the Headquarters Chief Inspector in Negombo, and another policeman who introduced himself as Assistant Superintendent of Police, but was plain clothed. Witnesses took the following official police numbers: 89218; 79573; 89568; 10701; 51717.

In a heated confrontation between the policemen and FOD leaders headed by FOD President, Mr. Brito Fernando, the FOD learned that the motive of the arrest was the presentation of a video on the recent commemoration of the anniversary of the Monument of the Disappeared in Seeduwa, Sri Lanka held on October 27, 2012. Mr. Fernando asked if he was being arrested and what the charges were, which one of the policemen, who introduced himself as Sub Inspector, said that the charge was the act of showing a video documentary against President Mahindra Rajapaksa. Mr. Fernando told the police that he took responsibility of the video and challenged the policemen to arrest him. The policemen responded that they only needed a copy of the film, which Mr. Fernando refused to give.

Mr. Fernando and other leaders confronted the police and asserted that the arrest of the six persons was illegal. For which reason, the policemen were forced to release the victims after holding them in their vehicle for more than an hour.

The AFAD Council condemns in strongest terms the act which reconfirms that Sri Lanka is indeed a human rights violator which deserves no support whatsoever from any UN Member. Furthermore, the AFAD Council expresses its profound disappointment at the sorry state of human rights in this country. The undersigned personally met Pres. Rajapaksa a few years back, when he was the Prime Minister of the country. He promised to facilitate the speedy signing and ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which never happened and on the contrary, thousands of people have been violated of their rights, including the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance. The continuing massive commission of enforced disappearances and many other human rights violations in the country are a cause for alarm that necessitates a strong response from the international community.

Art. 24.7 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, “Each State Party shall guarantee the right to form and participate freely in organizations and associations concerned with attempting to establish the circumstances of enforced disappearance and the fate of disappeared persons, and to assist victims of enforced disappearance.” The recent incident is a blatant disregard of the provision of this anti-disappearance treaty.

The Council Meeting of AFAD held on 28 November – 3 December 2012 was attended by human rights organizations in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste and a delegation of AFAD Secretariat members from the Philippines with an online participation from its member –organization in Kashmir, India. It was also attended by an observer from Thailand-based organization, ND Burma and a consultant of the Bread for the World/Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED).

Signed by:
MUGIYANTO
Chairperson

and

MARY AILEEN DIEZ-BACALSO
Secretary-General
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Rms. 310-311 Philippine Social Science Center Bldg.,
Commonwealth Ave., Diliman, 1103 Quezon City

Telefax: 00-632-4546759
Mobile: (63)917-792-4058
Website: http://www.afad-online.org

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[Statement] A Day of SOLIDARITY in the Struggle against IMPUNITY -AFAD

AFAD Statement on the Commemoration of International Day of the Disappeared, 30 August 2012

A Day of SOLIDARITY in the Struggle against IMPUNITY

Today as the world marks the International Day of the Disappeared declared by the United Nations in tribute to all desaparecidos, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) joins hand with all the families of the disappeared persons and human rights advocates around the world in pursuing the struggle against enforced disappearance and in ending impunity.

Enforced disappearance is a global phenomenon that necessitates a global response. Around the world, thousands of people are subjected to enforced disappearances by their own governments in the name of national security. In recent years, after 9/11, many of the cases are anchored on the US-led “war against terror.” This form of human rights violation is most prevalent in Asia being the continent with no strong regional human rights mechanism and no domestic laws to guarantee protection from enforced disappearance. To note, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances received the highest number of cases from Asia.

This dismal reality is reflected in Asian countries where our federation has member-organizations working on the issue.

In Bangladesh, cases of enforced disappearance are alarmingly increasing, thus, creating a climate of fear among the general populace. According to our member-organization, Odhikar, cases of disappearances compared to previous years, are on the rise. The group has already documented cases of nine people who have disappeared since January 2012. Many of the victims’ families believe that the security agencies are responsible for abducting their loved ones.

In the Indian occupied Kashmir, the Indian government-appointed State Human Rights Commission officially acknowledged for the first time, in September 2011, the presence of more than 2,000 unmarked mass graves not far from the Line of the Control that divides India and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The Association of Parents of the Disappeared Persons (APDP) has been demanding for prompt and proper investigation of these mass graves but the Indian government remain indifferent to the issue of human rights violations particularly enforced disappearances and evidence of possible crimes against humanity committed by its own state security forces. In its report, the Commission states that the mass graves might contain the dead bodies of those who were killed or made to disappear since the armed rebellion started in 1990s.

In Indonesia, the National Commission of Human Rights of Indonesia (Komnas HAM) has recently issued an inquiry report on the anti-communist pogrom that took place in Indonesia in 1965 to 1967. The report concluded that there are enough initial pieces of evidence that gross violation of human rights including enforced disappearances were committed during that period. Earlier in 2006, Komnas HAM also issued an inquiry report on the cases of enforced disappearances that happened in 1997-1998 involving 23 activists of whom 13 are still disappeared until today. Of the said case, in 2009 the Parliament (DPR) recommended the President to establish an Ad Hoc Human Rights Court; to search for the 13 disappeared activists; to provide compensation and rehabilitation and ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearances. We support our members KontraS and IKOHI to demand the government to follow up the reports of the Komnas HAM and recommendations of the Parliament.

In Nepal, despite the democracy transition through the signing of Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2006, the country is still in the state of political impasse resulting in non-accountability for conflict era human rights violations including enforced disappearances during Nepal’s civil war between 1996 and 2006. The Draft bills to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Disappearances Commission have been halted because the parliament was dissolved. The situation worsens because 3 days before today’s commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared, the Cabinet submitted an Ordinance on Truth and Reconciliation and Disappearances to be approved by the President. This Ordinance is considered by our member Advocacy Forum and Conflict Victims Society for Justice (CVSJ) and other human rights organizations in Nepal as an Impunity Document in both form and substance which, therefore, must be rejected.

In Pakistan, the Supreme Court found convincing evidence that the states-controlled paramilitary forces are responsible for the recent disappearances of at least 300 people who had been abducted, killed and their bodies abandoned across in Balochistan province, as well as the northwest and violence-ridden Karachi. The Pakistani government recently established a new commission to probe cases of enforced disappearances. However, human rights groups particularly the Baloch Human Rights Organization have been criticizing these inquiry commissions for failing to protect witnesses and for conducting inadequate investigations, especially in cases where security forces and intelligence agencies were involved.

The systematic and massive phenomenon of enforced disappearances in the country has prompted the Pakistani government to invite the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to officially visit the country in September.

In the Philippines, enforced disappearances continue to happen despite the promise of political change by the Aquino administration. Since assuming only two years in office, there are already 17 cases of enforced disappearance that occurred under its watch. While the 15th Philippine Congress has made a positive step with the approval of both houses on third and final reading their versions of anti-enforced disappearance bill, it still awaits the meeting of Joint Bicameral Committee and the signature of President for the bill to pass into law

In Sri Lanka, three years after the government of Sri Lanka declared an end to decades of civil conflict with the Tamil Elam, enforced disappearances remain a major human rights concern in the country. Twenty-one disappearances have been reported to the government-appointed Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka from the beginning of the year to April. According to the Commission, enforced disappearance has been a grave result of “massive security network “and “top class intelligence system.” Human rights groups particularly the Families of the Disappeared (FOD) are mounting pressure on the Rajapaksa government to act on the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission, one of which is the criminalization of enforced or involuntary disappearances under its penal code.

In Timor Leste, during the UN Universal Periodic Review in October 2011, Timor Leste agreed to consider calls from many states to implement recommendations made by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR). Impunity for human rights violations persists despite ongoing investigations conducted by the Serious crimes Investigation. Timorese NGOs, particularly the HAK Association continues to call for justice for human rights violations committed by Indonesian security forces between 1974 and 1999. It has approximately recorded 186,000 to 250,000 people who died and were made to disappear. This call was reiterated by the UN WGEID when its officials visited the country at the beginning of 2012. Nevertheless, the government continues to promote reconciliation with Indonesia at the expense of justice. The Government of Timor-Leste still has to follow up the recommendations of the Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF) with Indonesia particularly on the establishment of the Commission for the Disappearances.

In Thailand, the Thai government expressed commitment to put an end to enforced disappearance in the country by signing early this year the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Recently, it approved some compensation package for families of the disappeared in the South, an act seen by the Justice and Peace Foundation as an important step for reparation. These positive developments, however, did not stop human rights groups particularly the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF) from demanding for the investigation of recent disappearance cases particularly in deep south. JPF has documented 40 incidences of enforced disappearance involving 59 people. The JPF believes that the counter-insurgency approach in the southern province of Thailand is the reason for its continuing commission.

Due to this grim situation, the AFAD together with organizations of victims’ families and other human rights organizations in different continents has been tirelessly working to convince all states particularly Asian governments to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in order to achieve its universal application and to enact domestic laws for its full implementation. Corollary to this is the call of AFAD on all governments to recognize the competence of the UN Committee Against Enforced Disappearances.

We, members of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, are drawn by a common pain. But we are also moved by a shared aspiration to work in solidarity in the relentless quest to obtain truth and justice and to make enforced disappearance disappear.

On the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared, as an apt tribute to the disappeared in Asia and the rest of the world, we pay our most fitting tribute to them – to continue our campaign to search for the truth; to attain justice, reparation, redress and to work indefatigably to ensure non-repetition, thus eventually fulfilling our dream for a world without desaparecidos.

Signed by:
MUGIYANTO
Chairperson
MANDIRA
Treasurer
MARY AILEEN DIEZ-BACALSO
Secretary-General

Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Rms. 310-311 Philippine Social Science Center Bldg.,
Commonwealth Ave., Diliman, 1103 Quezon City

Telefax: 00-632-4546759
Mobile: (63)917-792-4058
Website: http://www.afad-online.org

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[Press Release] Sri Lankan rights lawyer to observe the trial of a falsely charged activist -AHRC

Asian Human Rights Commission

PHILIPPINES: Sri Lankan rights lawyer to observe the trial of a falsely charged activist

Asian Human Rights Commission(Hong Kong, August 2, 2012) The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has sent a delegate today to observe the court trial of Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie, a human rights defender who is presently detained and prosecuted on evidence obtained through torture and a forced confession.

Rasika Sanjeewa Weerawickrama, a human rights lawyer from Sri Lanka, will sit as an international observer during the arraignment of Tulawie tomorrow, August 3 at 8:30am at the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 11, in Davao City.

“I will observe to see what went wrong,” Mr. Sanjeewa said. He further asks,“ why in his case has it happened?” This situation occurs, despite strong provision in the country’s 1987 Constitution, which protects persons from being prosecuted on evidence taken by way of torture and forced confessions.

Tulawie will be arraigned for multiple frustrated murders and multiple attempted murders and for allegedly ‘masterminding’ and ‘plotting’ a bomb attack on May 13, 2009 to assassinate Abdusakur Tan, present governor of Sulu.

For more detailed comments, read: AHRC-STM-011-2012 & AHRC-STM-013-2012.

RTC judge Virginia Hofilena- Europa ordered the charges on him to be withdrawn on July 23. This was about 17 days after the AHRC issued an appeal exposing the failure of the court to promptly resolve the petition that Tulawie first filed three years ago.

Mr. Sanjeewa also asks why, despite the country’s Speedy Trial Act of 1998, that Tulawie’s petition to drop the charges on him was not resolved for three years. If the petition drags on for three years, how could the court possibly complete a proper trial of “(180) days from the first day of trial” as required by law?

In concluding Tulawie’s appeal, Judge Europa ordered that he be arraigned on murder charges. This effectively allows for prosecution of the victim, despite knowing full well that the evidence held by the prosecution and the filing procedure had been questionable.

“It was obvious that the procedure has not been fair to Tulawie. The idea is for me to observe, to get first-hand information, to know and to understand why this has happened? If necessary, I will speak to the prosecutors myself, “Mr. Sanjeewa said.

Mr. Sanjeewa, holds a degree of Master of Law in Human Rights (LLM-HR) 2002 from the University of Hong Kong. He has had years of experience practicing law, representing poor victims pursuing complaints of torture, illegal arrest and detention, in courts in Sri Lanka. He is presently a legal consultant for the AHRC.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

All submissions are republished and redistributed in the same way that it was originally published online and sent to us. We may edit submission in a way that does not alter or change the original material.

Human Rights Online Philippines does not hold copyright over these materials. Author/s and original source/s of information are retained including the URL contained within the tagline and byline of the articles, news information, photos etc.

[Press Relese] Asian Parliamentarians to discuss ways for eliminating torture -AHRC

Asian Human Rights Commission

ASIA: Asian Parliamentarians to discuss ways for eliminating torture

Asian Human Rights Commission(Hong Kong, July 19, 2012) Parliamentarians from several Asian countries are poised to meet and discuss ways to end the widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment in their countries. The three day meeting will take place in Kowloon, Hong Kong, starting on July 21st.

The meeting is a significant step towards the implementation of the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

Parliamentarians from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka have already confirmed their participation. Several prominent human rights activists from South and South-East Asia will also be traveling to Hong Kong to contribute to the discussion.

The meeting is sponsored by the Asian Alliance against Torture and ill-treatment (AAATI). AAATI was initiated in July 2011, when a group of human rights activists from several Asian countries came together under the auspices of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Hong Kong, and the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT), Denmark. The alliance aims to make a concerted effort to introduce legislation in all Asian countries along the lines of UNCAT, and to ensure effective implementation of such critical laws that can safeguard human beings from torture and ill-treatment.

John Clancey, Chairperson of the AHRC, will present the keynote speech, and Dr. Jan Ole Haagensen, Director of the International Department of RCT, will present the theme paper, which will seek to provide an overall approach and strategy for effective elimination of torture in Asia. Several prominent members of Hong Kong human rights community will present their unique perspectives. And, the invited parliamentarians from each country will present papers on the subject, which will be discussed by all participants.

Professor Ole Espersen and former Minister of Justice, Denmark, has sent his greetings to the participants of the conference, stating that the “right not to be exposed to torture is in fact no real and genuine right if it is not combined with an effective remedy for the victims to make use of a legal machinery to have what the victim had to suffer redressed and guilty persons punished.” In addition Professor Espersen has noted that the “ultimate responsibility for the national fight against torture – and all other human rights violations, rests with the parliament and the government in each country.”

This meeting of parliamentarians from across Asian nations, who will gather in Hong Kong for the sole purpose of considering possibilities on how to bring an end to torture, is an unprecedented event.

# # #
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Visit our new website with more features at http://www.humanrights.asia.

All submissions are republished and redistributed in the same way that it was originally published online and sent to us. We may edit submission in a way that does not alter or change the original material.

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[Press Release] Torture: Asian Perspectives to be launched on 26 June -AHRC

Asian Human Rights Commission

ASIA: Torture: Asian Perspectives to be launched on 26 June

Asian Human Rights Commission(Hong Kong, June 06, 2012) The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to announce the release of its new bi-monthly magazine, Torture: Asian Perspectives. The first issue will be released on 26 June, on the occasion of the International Day against Torture and Illtreatment.

The magazine is conceived to become an additional space to publish narratives and analysis on torture. Through this, the Editorial Board hope that the victims of torture in Asia would not be forgotten, that their hopes would remain kindled and voices amplified. The publication is one more step by the AHRC in denouncing torture in Asia and to call upon the Asian states to spare no resources to eliminate torture in the continent.

A free and prosperous society encourages public opinion and debates, promotes dissemination of knowledge. The publication, Torture: Asian Perspectives will contribute in nurturing a vibrant Asian society by providing a free space where diverse aspects on the subject – social, medical, physiological, philosophical, political, and legal aspects of torture – are discussed. We hope that this would encourage Asian states to effectively implement legislations against torture in jurisdictions where such legislations exist and will generate enough debates in places where such a law is yet to be drafted.

The increase in the incidents of torture in countries believed to be democratic states is a concern, emerging in post-modern societies. This has gained prominence particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Professor Darius Rejali, of the Reed College, USA and an expert on the subject, discusses this trend and enumerates the new techniques used to inflict torture in his famous work, “Torture and Democracy.” Professor Rejali traces the migration of “clean torture” techniques – defined as physical torture that leaves no evidence on the victims’ body – from western democracies to authoritarian regimes since the 1970s. According to him “public monitoring leads institutions that favour painful coercion to use and combine clean torture techniques to evade detection, and, to the extent that public monitoring is not only greater in democracies, but that public monitoring of human rights is a core value in modern democracies, it is the case that where we find democracies torturing today we will also be more likely to find stealthy torture.”

Torture is often used by authoritarian regimes as a means to retain control by suppressing dissent. One of the reasons torture is less prevalent in some states in comparison to others is that the states in which torture is less prevalent have open and free political processes that not only protect political opposition but also create checks and balances from any particular political or other group attaining absolute control over the society. Though torture is often used to prevent such limitations to authoritarianism, there are examples throughout the history where social debates have forced political reforms despite the best efforts of whoever was in power. Such reform is present day Asia’s challenge, though Asian history is not bereft of such reforms in the past. A continent that was once home to some of the most advanced and civilised societies has the potential to and must reinvent itself.

The inspiration for Torture: Asian Perspectives is this rich past that contradicts today’s circumstances in the continent. We welcome everyone to come forward to speak-out against torture. Perhaps one way to do so would be to write for the Torture: Asian Perspectives. Anyone wishing to contact the Editorial Board is welcome to do so through email or post. All materials submitted will be independently evaluated according to three separate criteria. They are: the material’s purpose and targeted readers; authority, accuracy and reliability of the author and of the subject discussed; its objectivity and coverage.

The magazine will cover three categories on the issue: individual narratives of torture from Asia; interviews with experts whose work on the subject; and essays covering different perspectives about torture.
Tentative team
Editorial Board:
1. Nilantha Ilangamuwa (Hong Kong, Editor Sri Lanka Guardian)
2. Ms. Answer Styannes (Indonesia, Lawyer)
3. Eric Bailey (USA, Historian/Journalist)
4. Shiv Karan Singh (India, Journalist)
Editorial Advisors
1. John Clancey (Hong Kong, Lawyer)
2. Ms. Kishali Pinto Jayawardena (Sri Lanka, Lawyer)
3. Wong Kai Shing (Hong Kong, Executive Director AHRC)
4. Basil Fernando (Sri Lanka, Director Policy AHRC)
5. Dr J de Almeida Guneratne ( Sri Lanka, President’s Counsel )
6. Ms. Hasina Kharbhih (India, Chair Board of Directors Impulse NGO Network)
7. Bijo Francis (India, Lawyer)
8. Dr. Clifford Perera (Sri Lanka, Forensic Pathologist)
9. Ms. Mandira Sharma (Nepal, Lawyer)
10. Dr. Rajat Mitra (India, Psychologist)
11. Baseer Naveed (Pakistan, Journalist)
Contact Address
Asian Human Rights Commission
Unit 701A, Westley Square
48 Hoi Yuen Road
Kwun Tong, KLN
Hong Kong, China
Tel: +(852) 2698 6339
Fax: +(852) 2698 6367
Email: torturemag@ahrc.asia
Web site: http://www.humanrights.asia
# # #
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
Visit our new website with more features at http://www.humanrights.asia.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRESS RELEASE
AHRC-PRL-019-2012

All submissions are republished and redistributed in the same way that it was originally published online and sent to us. We may edit submission in a way that does not alter or change the original material.

Human Rights Online Philippines does not hold copyright over these materials. Author/s and original source/s of information are retained including the URL contained within the tagline and byline of the articles, news information, photos etc.

[In the news] OFWs in Sri Lanka, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey won’t benefit from double taxation treaties — NGO -InterAksyon.com

OFWs in Sri Lanka, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey won’t benefit from double taxation treaties — NGO
by Veronica Uy, InterAksyon.com
February 2, 2012

MANILA, Philippines — Overseas Filipino workers in Sri Lanka, Kuwait, Qatar, and Turkey will not benefit from the treaties against double taxation being pushed for ratification by the Department of Foreign Affairs, a migrant workers’ group said Thursday.

According to the Center for Migrant Advocacy, which attended the Senate hearing on the matter, OFWs in these countries are already exempt from taxation on income earned from overseas employment.

The Senate needs to ratify the conventions for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion With respect to taxes on income with these countries before they become enforceable.

CMA executive director Ellene Sana said these bilateral agreements seem to benefit foreign companies engaged in business in the Philippines more than OFWs in the four countries.

Read full article @ www.interaksyon.com

[Statement] ASIA: The state of human rights in Asia on International Human Rights Day 2011 – AHRC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AHRC-STM-198-2011
December 9, 2011
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Occasion of the International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011

ASIA: The state of human rights in Asia on International Human Rights Day 2011

On the occasion of the annual International Human Rights Day, held on December 10, 2011, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is releasing reports on the human rights situations in ten Asian countries: Bangladesh, Burma, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and Sri Lanka. In 2011, the AHRC has witnessed the continuing widespread use of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings by state agents, serious clampdowns on the freedom of expression, and attacks on human rights defenders. Furthermore, in some of the countries listed above, religious intolerance has led to suppression of religious freedoms and violence against religious minorities.

Failure of the justice institutions

The reports, which are based on the AHRC’s documentation of cases throughout the year, show that the failure of these countries’ justice institutions to the deliver justice and protect of human rights is the main factor that propagates the widespread abuse of human rights by state agents as well as non-state actors. As long as these justice institutions remain dysfunctional, the perpetrators of human rights violations will continue to enjoy impunity for their actions. There are currently few consequences faced by perpetrators who violate people’s rights, even though there are provisions concerning the protection of rights under countries’ constitutions, laws and international obligations. The lack of implementation of such provisions ensures that there is no effective deterrent to prevent further rights violations being carried out.

The protection of human rights starts with the right to make complaints. The police, as a key law enforcement agency within States’ justice delivery mechanism, should stand at the frontline in the protection of rights, notably by receiving and acting upon complaints. However, in most Asian countries, people generally are not willing to make complaints to the police. This is not only because there is a lack of confidence in the police’s ability or willingness to conduct proper investigations or provide protection to persons at risk, but because there is a fear of reprisals against people if they make complaints. Where victims belong to poor or marginalized communities, or the perpetrators belong to influential or political groups, the police usually refuse to register complaints. Where complaints are against police officers and state agents, victims often face intimidation and threats, forcing them to withdraw their complaints. In many documented cases, the police often framed fabricated charges against the victims and the human rights defenders who were assisting them.

The effective functioning of the police is further hindered in situations where they are in practice subordinated to the military. As well as in Pakistan, where the powerful military dominates both internal and external affairs, in countries such as Indonesia, India and the Philippines, the military is given enormous powers in specific areas within the country to maintain public order, in the name of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. In Mindanao in the Philippines, soldiers carry out arrest orders and usurp fundamental police powers, such as the investigation of crimes. This has been witnessed as being a common practice not only in conflict areas but also in heavily militarized communities. Substantial regions in Manipur and other north-eastern states in India, as well as in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, remain under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, under which the military is granted extraordinary powers to detain persons, use lethal force, and enter and search premises without warrants. In Papua in Indonesia, increased military deployments to the region – notably by going beyond the purpose of border control and defence against external threats – seriously affect the rights and living conditions of the region’s people. This militarization subverts the supremacy of civilian oversight over the military, and continues to cause serious and widespread violations of rights, including torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings in these countries.

Furthermore, the prosecution systems in many of these countries have also contributed to the persistence of impunity. In most Asian countries, Attorney General’s Offices and public prosecutors are highly politicized. In cases involving state agents, including the military and the police, as well as those concerning political groups or influential people, prosecutions are routinely obstructed. In Bangladesh and India, ruling political parties appoint prosecutors after every new regime assumes office. These prosecutors maintain close affinities with the ruling party and with the police, and participate in covering up the crimes of state agents and influential individuals. In Bangladesh, the government arbitrarily withdraws criminal cases under the justification that they are politically motivated, by abusing Section 494 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Such arbitrary case withdrawals are also seen in Nepal. On May 20, 2011, the Home Minister of Nepal, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, announced that his office was seeking to withdraw criminal cases dating from the time of the country’s conflict. As many as 300 cases filed at the district level were at risk of being withdrawn, including cases of serious human rights violations, such as the disappearance and murder of Arjun Bahadur Lama and the disappearance and torture to death of Maina Sunuwar. Such a practice denies the right to justice and judicial remedies for victims and their families concerning grave abuses of human rights.

In many cases, prosecutors used an alleged lack of evidence to justify their failure to act, notably as the result of the absence of witnesses. However, the unwillingness of witnesses to come forwards stems from the lack of effective state witness protection mechanisms. Witnesses in such contexts are too frightened to testify, due to continuing threats, the fear of reprisals and uncertainties resulting from endemic delays in trials of cases. To secure the appearance of witnesses, states must ensure that effective protection systems are put in place, which include interim protection measures for witnesses prior to trials, as well as effective security and support for persons and their families for the entire period in which they are at risk during lengthy trials. However, most Asian countries are either lacking such witness protection programs, or the existing programs lack credibility and are inadequately resourced, which renders them incapable of fulfilling their functions. This lack ensures a lack of evidence and therefore the persistence of impunity.

It is impossible to deliver justice and protect rights without a functioning and independent judiciary. However, the judiciaries in most Asian countries are dysfunctional and lack independence. Executive control over the judiciary, as well as judicial corruption, have paralyzed these institutions. The appointment of judicial officers in many Asian countries is highly politicized, with judges being selected or promoted not on the basis of their professional knowledge and ethics, but based on their political affiliations. In some countries, the executive still maintains de facto control of magistrate courts and their handling of transfers of judicial officers and finances. In Sri Lanka, the constitution itself places the head of the state above the law and outside the jurisdiction of court. The principle of the separation of powers has been replaced by the supremacy of the executive. Judicial corruption is a common phenomenon in many Asian countries, and has given rise to expressions such as the ‘judicial mafia,’ as judges are seen to be protecting each other’s illegal activities rather than ensuring the rule of law. It is increasingly common to see members of the judiciary in parts of Asia ganging together to support a particular political party or to defend each other against allegations of abuse of power and corruption. Another factor that obstructs the delivery of justice is the problem of lengthy court delays. A simple criminal case in some countries, for instance India, can remain stuck in the court for a decade or more without any tangible progress being made. Delays in the delivery of justice discourage complainants from coming forwards concerning their cases. As a result of these problems, even high profile cases, such as the murder of leading human rights activist Munir Said Thalib in Indonesia, and the disappearance of human rights lawyer Mr. Somchai Neelaphaijit in Thailand, which both took place in 2004, have still not resulted in justice being delivered.

In Burma, corruption within the judicial system is omnipresent. The AHRC has urged human rights defenders in Burma and abroad to pay much more attention to the extent of corruption in all areas of the criminal justice system and related institutions. The rapid increase in commercial investment in the country from around the region, and the growing number of conflicts and problems arising out of rapid social and economic change, are bound to result in larger amounts of money entering the judicial system, further worsening the levels of corruption there, and the negative impact this has on the prospect for the protection of human rights and the delivery of justice.

Another matter of grave concern is the failure of national court systems to implement applicable obligations under international human rights law in their rulings, despite states having ratified international human rights legal instruments. This is frequently observed in most Asian nations. For instance, regarding the views of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in the case of Nallaratnam Singarasa vs. the Attorney General, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka held that the signing of the First Optional Protocol of the ICCPR in 1997 by the president was ultra vires and unconstitutional. Despite protests by local and international groups, Sri Lanka, as a State Party to the ICCPR and its optional protocol, had not taken any measures to rectify the legal situation arising from this decision. In Thailand, recent court judgments have provoked similar concerns. For instance, on August 10, 2011, the Criminal Court convicted Mr. Suderueman, a torture victim, and sentenced him to two years in prison under sections 173 and 174 of the Criminal Code, for allegedly maliciously giving false information to inquiry officers. The prosecution and conviction of Mr. Suderueman represents a violation of the Government of Thailand’s obligations under the Convention against Torture (CAT).

Persistent discrimination and decaying justice systems effectively deprive those marginalized communities of the protection of the law and the State. South Asia, notably India and Nepal, continue to suffer exceptionally high levels of entrenched discrimination against specific communities based on caste or ethnicity, This often translates into direct and extreme forms of violence against Dalit, tribal or indigenous communities. In Nepal, 2011 saw a welcomed development in the adoption of the first law comprehensively criminalizing caste-based discrimination. In India, the discussions are now focusing exclusively on the adoption of a new legislation to address violence against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, but without having identified the reasons for the failures of the existing legal framework. None of those two countries have embraced the necessity of a tangible rejuvenation of the justice institutions to effectively extend the State’s protection to the rights of those communities.

Access to justice institutions remained virtually impossible to women in almost all Asian countries. Patriarchal values also corrupt the justice institutions, providing shelter and impunity to perpetrators of violence against women. This accounts for the continuity of the most severe forms of violence against women which are being documented from all over Asia. Our report on Pakistan details the brutal treatment and violence women experience every day, while the state walks away from its responsibilities, failing to take credible and effective action to bring those abuses to an end”

A crosscutting factor that seriously affects the proper functioning of justice institutions is corruption. This is illustrated in the report on Bangladesh, which states that “the pattern of law-enforcement in Bangladesh is based on illegal arrests based on suspicion without any credible investigations into crimes before making the arrest, which by default leads to arbitrary detention for indefinite periods, the extortion of money from detainees or their relatives through the use of torture, and the fabrication of criminal cases or implication of persons in pending cases for failing to pay the required amount of bribes.” Due to rampant corruption, the public has lost faith in the policing and prosecution systems as well as these countries’ judiciaries.

Without tackling the problems affecting states’ justice institutions and corruption, by conducting legal and institutional reforms, there will be no significant and long-term improvement to the human rights situations and rights protection problems witnessed in Asian countries, as impunity will continue to reign supreme. To achieve these much-needed reforms, deeper understanding of the problems affecting each country is required, and must be accompanied by the mobilization of public discussion and support for effective reforms. The AHRC’s reports aim to assist this process.

Torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings

The AHRC continued to receive numerous cases of torture from across Asia throughout 2011, notably from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India. Police personnel, as well as members of the military and intelligence agencies, are the primary perpetrators of torture. Torture is widely used by the police to extract confessions during criminal investigation. Torture is also used as a tool to extract bribes. Most of the victims of torture are from poor and marginalized communities. Among them, many are juveniles arrested by police officers concerning petty crimes, who are tortured severely, sometimes to death, while in custody. In Nepal, for example, numerous cases have been reported concerning juveniles being tortured during interrogation.

In Pakistan, the police and members of the armed forces have even conducted torture in public places in order to create fear in the wider population. The Pakistan Army is running detention and torture cells in almost every city in the country. Large scale extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances have also been committed by the Pakistan Army in Balochistan province and other militarized areas. The people of Pakistan were stunned when they watched the video showing Sindh Rangers (a paramilitary force) personnel killing a young man in cold blood in a public place in the evening of 8 June 2011. Disappearances in Pakistan have become a routine matter and it has been accepted by the authorities as a normal practice of the law enforcement agencies, including the army and its intelligence agencies.

In places such as the southern Thailand, Papua in Indonesia, Mindanao in the Philippines, and the north-eastern states and state of Jammu and Kashmir in India, military operations have led to many cases of torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Many cases of extrajudicial killings have been disguised as “encountering killings” or “killings resulting from crossfire.”

To begin to effectively address the problem of widespread torture, the practice must be criminalized under domestic law. In many Asian countries, torture, as defined under the International Convention against Torture (CAT), is still not a crime. Addressing torture also requires independent mechanisms to receive complaints and investigate torture committed by the police and the military. This must be accompanied by effective witness protection mechanisms, in order to protect victims and witnesses from threats and intimidation by perpetrators or their accomplices, as mentioned above. As a result of torture, victims suffer from severe physical and psychological problems as well as social marginalization. There remains a serious lack of effective measures to ensure that victims are provided with the physical and psychological treatment necessary for their rehabilitation. Reforms to justice institutions as described above remain a key requirement for any serious effort to address the problem of impunity that typically accompanies the use of torture throughout Asia.

Furthermore, in some Asian countries, such as Bangladesh and India, courts insist obtaining prior sanction from the government to prosecute criminal cases against government officers. This has created serious obstacles for victims of torture seeking to initiate complaints against state agents. Such legacies of colonial laws must be repealed. In Indonesia, members of the military cannot be held accountable by independent investigations and civilian courts. They continue to be tried exclusively by the Indonesian National Army’s (TNI) legal system, which has serious flaws and typically perpetuates impunity. This system should be changed to ensure that crimes committed by members of the military against civilians are tried exclusively by civilian courts.

Clampdown on freedom of expression and attacks on human rights defenders

2011 witnessed a serious clampdown on the freedom of expression in many Asian countries. Restrictive laws were adopted and widely used to suppress dissent or political opposition. In Thailand, the government continued to use Article 112 of the Criminal Code dealing with the crime of lese majesty as well as the 2007 Computer Crimes Act to prosecute independent voices and actors in society, such as seen in the case of Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn. This has posed serious threats to the freedom of expression and the right to access to information. In Indonesia, the parliament adopted a new intelligence law on October 11, 2011, that allows the intelligence agency to intervene in cases where State secrets have been published, without providing any definition of the terms of the process used to classify information as such. This provides the agency with wide powers of discretion and is expected to result in arbitrary arrests and violations of the freedom of expression. In Malaysia, on November 29, 2011, the House of Representative passed the Peaceful Assembly Bill, which prohibits street protests. In South Korea, the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) newly sets up an organ to restrict freedom of expression over the internet.

In many Asian countries, public assemblies and demonstrations often faced violent repression by the police. In Malaysia, the police brutally cracked down on tens of thousands of protesters who were calling for electoral reforms on July 9, 2011. Many protesters were injured and over 1,600 were arrested. On October 19, 2011, the Indonesian army and police forces opened fire on participants in the third Papuan People’s Congress. At least three persons were killed and many more were injured.

There were also many cases of violence against journalists. In Pakistan, 16 journalists were killed in 2011, including the prominent international journalist Saleem Shahzad of the Asia Times, and many attacks were also carried out against journalists with 47 injured. In Indonesia, more than 60 cases of violence and several defamation lawsuits against journalists were reported in 2011.

Human rights defenders (HRD) have been repeatedly threatened by state agents and non-state actors. Many of them face criminal prosecution by the authorities. Often, fabricated charges are framed against them. Some were severely tortured, disappeared or even killed. In Thailand, there is a rising concern about the increase of prosecutions or threats of prosecution against human rights defenders, under criminal charges such as trespassing or lese majesty. For instance, in October 2011, Ms. Jintana Kaewkhao, an HRD in Prachuab Khiri Khan, was sentenced to four months in prison by the Supreme Court on charges of trespassing, under Article 362 of the Criminal Code. In South Korea, two human rights defenders Mr. Park Lae-gun and Mr. Lee Jong-hoi were given a three-year and one month jail sentence suspended for four years and a two-year jail sentence suspended for three years respectively, by the district court. According to the judgment, they were found guilty of organising assemblies and demonstrations that clearly pose a direct threat to public peace and order, organising banned assemblies and demonstrations, organising outdoor demonstrations after sunset and obstructing general traffic.

In Pakistan, there was an increase in the extrajudicial killing of activists in Balochistan province. It is reported in many cases that the Frontier Corps (FC) and plain clothed persons abducted activists, whose whereabouts remained unknown until, several months later, their bullet-riddled and tortured bodies were found. This also happened in other parts of Pakistan. Since July 2010 to date AHRC documented the cases of 215 persons whose bullet riddled bodies were found.

In Bangladesh, human rights defenders are working in a very intimidating environment, under constant surveillance and threats by the intelligence agencies, the notorious Rapid Action Battalions and the military. The brutal attack on FMA Razzak on April 29, 2011, in which he was severely beaten, including an attempt to gouge out his eyes, before being left for dead, shows the risks faced by human rights defenders in Bangladesh. Following the attack, the role played by the country’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has been of added concern. Despite repeated requests by the AHRC, as well as by other persons and groups inside Bangladesh and internationally, the NHRC has failed to act on this case.

Religious intolerance and violence

The increase of religious violence in some Asian countries deserves more attention, especially in Indonesia and Pakistan. In Indonesia, the increase of religious violence is exemplified by the killing of three Ahmadiyah followers in February 2011. Violations of the freedom of religion, the right to life, and the right to remedy of members of religious minorities, have increased in recent years in Muslim-dominated areas of Indonesia, such as West Java, Banten and DKI Jakarta. Violence against minority groups and terror bombings in places of worship illustrate the decline of religious tolerance and freedom in the country. Christian churches have been bombed and burned, while local administrations have banned such religious communities from worshiping on their land in many cities and towns, allegedly to avoid conflict with mainstream Muslim groups. Attacks on religious minorities in Java and other parts of Indonesia in recent years have also shown that the police and courts are unwilling to protect individuals or groups from attacks and other abuses by the religious majority. In several cases the police have failed to conduct investigations and perpetrators are not being brought to justice. Attempts by hard-line religious groups to obstruct religious minorities from worshipping have taken place with the acquiescence of the police. In the few cases that were brought to court, the perpetrators received only lenient punishments. As a result, the credibility and functioning of the justice institutions have been seriously undermined.

In Pakistan, 2011 has been marked by the killing of hundreds of persons by extremist religious groups, including by those operating within the security forces. Killings have even targeted high-profile personalities, such as Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, the governor of Punjab province, and Mr. Salman Taseer, the federal minister of minority affairs. The government’s inability to halt religious and sectarian intolerance has strengthened banned militant religious groups in their efforts to organize, collect funds and hold large rallies. The lack of credible action by the government has enabled the forced conversion to Islam of girls from religious minority groups by different methods, particularly though abduction and rape. Around 2000 girls from minority groups were forced to convert to Islam according to Christian and Hindu organizations. Some 161 persons faced blasphemy charges in the Pakistan in 2011. Nine of them have been killed.

In conclusion, it is clear from the ten reports that the AHRC is releasing to coincide with International Human Rights Day 2011, that the road towards the full enjoyment and protection of human rights remains fraught with obstacles in the Asian region. Alongside detailing the many forms of grave rights violations witnessed in different countries during the year, the AHRC’s reports aim to provide insight into the institutional shortcomings that must be addressed in order for real change to occur. The AHRC hopes that these reports will encourage all actors concerned with human rights, as well as the governments that have the obligation to protect and ensure these rights, to engage in effecting much needed reforms to enable positive developments across the region in the months and years to come.
Pre-print releases of the country reports are available online at: http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2011/.
# # #
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Visit our new website with more features at http://www.humanrights.asia.
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[Press Release] Asian rights and rehabilitation groups gather in Manila presses for right to rehabilitation for victims of torture

The Medical Action Group (MAG) will host the Asian Regional Conference on Enhancing the Capacity of Rehabilitation Centers and Civil Society in Accessing Justice for the Victims of Torture on November 22 to 26, 2011 at the Diamond Hotel.

The five-day Asian Regional Conference is being organized by the MAG, in partnership with the European Union (EU) and International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT). This will highlight current initiatives and “good practices” or “successful interventions”, being implemented in the Philippines and several Asian countries to promote right to rehabilitation of victims of torture.

Attending the conference are representatives of several human rights groups and rehabilitation centers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tibet.

“When one considers the torture cases of Joselito Binayug, the former police officer who was caught in a cell phone video torturing an alleged robbery suspect inside the Asuncion police precinct, Lenin Salas et al in Pampanga and Khan Ajid Balanting in Basilan, one must be doubtful about the intent of the Anti-Torture Law,” Edeliza P. Hernandez, Executive Director of the MAG.

Hernandez said this regional conference which will tackle the growing challenges on rehabilitation confronting the victims of torture is significant on our part to learn from experiences of other Asian countries in their work in promoting right to rehabilitation of victims of torture.

“Despite the country has the Anti-Torture Law but we have cases and first-hand experiences uncovering its limitation and flaw which undermines the right of the victim to medical care and rehabilitation,” Hernandez added.

The Asian rehab groups press the Governments that effective rehabilitation services and programs are established in their country and are accessible to all victims as their obligation under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.-end-

[Event] ASIAN Regional Conference on Enhancing Capacity of Rehabilitation Center and Civil Society in Access to Justice of Victims in Torture – MAG

ASIAN REGIONAL CONFERENCE ON ENHANCING CAPACITY OF REHABILITATION CENTER AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN ACCESS TO JUSTICE
OF VICTIMS IN TORTURE

Introduction

The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) invites nominations for participation and call for conference papers in the Asian Regional Conference on enhancing the capacity of rehabilitation centers and civil society in accessing justice for the victims of torture to be held in Manila, Philippines from 22-24 November 2011. The theme of the conference is “Access to Justice of Victims of Torture in Rehabilitation.” The Asian Regional Conference is being organized by the Medical Action Group (MAG), an IRCT member-organization in the Philippines.

Article 2 of the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (referred hereafter as the CAT) says in part that each State party should “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture.”

Torture is prohibited in all international human rights instruments and domestic laws. Still, torture is prevalent in many countries in the world. These conditions continue to prevail and are widespread due to lack of infrastructure in place for investigation of torture case, prosecution of perpetrators at all levels and the  holistic rehabilitation for torture victims.

In Asia, these issues are significant considering the situation that torture cases are not promptly, impartially and effectively investigated. This is compounded with the fact that majority of perpetrators go unpunished, and many governments do not take the necessary steps to provide access to holistic rehabilitation and justice for the victims. Each of the rehabilitation centers and civil society working with the torture victims, in general, is characterized by different set of challenges and opportunities. But they all a common share common goal of eliminating torture and that justice must be given to torture victims.

Following the obligations of States to prevent torture and to hold perpetrators accountable, Article 14 of the CAT stipulates that each State party shall ensure in its legal system that victims of torture obtain redress and have an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. It is important to note that the services provided by rehabilitation centers for the victims of torture go beyond the aspects of rehabilitation. They also contribute to raising public awareness on campaign against torture and enhancing capacity of civil society supporting torture victims and their families to obtain redress. The campaign and advocacy work about the prevalence of torture and government’s acquiescence or participation in it can create public discourse and pressure, and eventually bring about policy change on the need for justice as part of rehabilitation.

This clearly illustrates the vital role that rehabilitation centers play in access to justice for the victims of torture with which fulfilling torture victims’ right to rehabilitation is therefore an important element in preventing further violation and in promoting social healing and justice.

Objectives

The general objective of the conference is to map out the different approaches adopted by rehabilitation centers and civil society in accessing justice for the victims of torture.

The conference will be a venue for exchange of information about related rehabilitation work and access to justice initiatives in the region, to discuss challenges and ways by which these can be overcome, and to share different programs and initiatives with the objective of exchanging views and adopting “good practice” or “successful intervention”, which may be applicable in the Philippines and in Asia.

The conference will seek to:

1.    Identify areas of common concerns, specifically on the need for capacity development for institutions that are engaged in access to justice program; and
2.    Discuss and plan for possible collaborative and cooperative actions that address the challenges faced by various organizations represented and similar organizations in the region, especially in enhancing their capacity to continue their rehabilitation and access to justice work.

Learning methodology

The conference will be conducted in a participatory manner using methods such as group discussion, information sharing and presentation of the highlights of conference papers submitted by each IRCT member in Asia. Experts in the field of human rights and rehabilitation work will be invited to speak on a particular subject. Audio-visual material will also be used to facilitate communication and inter-cultural learning.

On November 21, a meeting of IRCT Asian regional partners on Non-State Actors or NSA project i.e. Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Philippines will be conducted before the actual conference to discuss the facilitation of the Regional Conference. From November 22-24, these will be devoted to discussion on sessions on issues and challenges concerning rehabilitation and access to justice work.

Participants

Representatives from nineteen IRCT members in Asia and local NGOs will be selected to participate. (Please wait for further notice on the number of representative that be selected from each IRCT member and local NGOs.) Selected participants from local NGOs are also invited those who are actively working in the field of rehabilitation work, access to justice and, related to civil and political rights.

The selected participant who will take part in the conference must prepare in advance a 5-10 page paper, (1.5 space, 12 font, Times New Roman) addressing the rehabilitation work in access to justice of victims of torture. Abstract should be submitted no later than October 7, 2011. The annex to this note provides separate information on submission of abstracts.

If your organization would like to nominate a participant, please submit a nomination letter to the conference Secretariat on or before October 7. Participants who have been selected will be informed by October 17. We will send out another wave of invitation through e-mail by October 18 which will include the conference venue, program detail, list of participants and other logistical requirements.

A list of accepted paper abstracts will be posted online at this time or will be sent through e-mail.

Practical information

The conference organizers will cover travel costs (including visa fees) and accommodation during the entire duration of the conference. Please let us know all your travel need and arrangement, air and land.

Flight reservation:  Please make your booking arrangements ahead of time and ensure that modest or economy class travel is maximize otherwise we will provide you with all the travel arrangements required from the city of departure to your final destination.  If you have any special needs or require special assistance, please let us know at the time of reservation so that we can accommodate all your needs.

Insurance:  Please let us know at the time of reservation if you require travel insurance.

Visa:  We highly recommend that you check with us prior to travel and especially with your consulate the visa requirements for each country as international laws change frequently. Please also check the link http://www.dfa.gov.ph/main/index.php/consular-services/visa

Dietary requirement: Please let us know your dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian or halal food) when you submit your nomination form so that necessary arrangement could made for your food requirements.

Dress code: Please wear your national costume or clothing which is significant for your country during the formal opening ceremony on November 22 as the diplomatic communities will be invited to the opening event.

Nominations, paper abstracts and conference related communications should be sent to the conference Secretariat thru e-mail at IRCTasianconfab2011@gmail.com. Please also check our Facebook http://www.facebook.com/medicalactiongroup and website http://magph.org/ for conference updates.

Call for conference paper

Conference theme:  Rehabilitation in Access to Justice of Victims of Torture

Theme Tracks

I.    Role of rehabilitation center in access to justice for torture victims
II.    Forensic Evidence in the fight Against Torture
III.    Good practice or successful interventions in Access to Justice
IV.    Concept, Significance and the Link of Rehabilitation with Access to Justice
Guidelines for Submission of Paper Abstracts

1.    All abstract must be submitted electronically. Abstracts submitted should be of previously original work.
2.    All abstract submissions are required to be structured under these headings:
I.    Purpose
II.    Method
III.    Result
IV.    Conclusion
3.    Only one author can be listed as the presenter. Co-authors are welcome to attend the session. But the expenses fare is to be shouldered by the sending organization.
4.    All abstract must be 450 words or less, use Times New Roman, 12 font size and be no more than a single legal size page. Handwritten abstract will not be accepted. The title and the designated presenter are not included in the word count. Headings within the abstract are included in the word count.
5.    All abstract must be submitted in English.
6.    Acronyms and abbreviations should be spelled out at first use.

Full paper submissions are due by November 18, 2011. All submissions must be in PDF format and submitted electronically.

The conference Secretariat must receive abstract by not later than October 7, 2011. Abstract should be addressed to Edeliza P. Hernandez, Executive Director of MAG and head of the conference Secretariat through e-mail at IRCTasianconfab2011@gmail.com

[From the web] A unique regional initiative: The Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-Treatment

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission
WORLD: A unique regional initiative: The Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-Treatment
Erik Wendt & Therese Rytter, Rehabilitation & Research Centre for Torture Victims, Denmark

It is well documented that torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial executions are carried out throughout Asia by agents of the state, notably police, military, and special investigation units, who expose ordinary citizens to such heinous crimes in complete disregard of national legislation.

Torture is rampant, but even today it remains a taboo in many countries — and for good reasons. Human rights defenders and civil society organizations strive to break this taboo. They meticulously document torture and other human rights violations and disseminate information about these abusive practices to the governments and the general public in their countries. A human rights movement is growing, demanding an immediate stop to the use of torture. But more needs to be done to bring more people into this movement, notably parliamentarians, medical professionals, media people, and other progressive forces.

This is the motivation behind a unique regional initiative, the Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-treatment (AAATI). The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT), Denmark, took the lead to organize the foundational meeting of the AAATI, the first of its kind in Asia. The meeting was held from 15 to 19 August 2011 at the AHRC’s office in Hong Kong.

Participants from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Denmark were represented in the meeting. They shared extensive knowledge and experience of how state-perpetrated torture persists in their countries, often on a systematic scale, and of its underlying causes. These presentations depicted the worst forms of deprivation of individual liberties.

It was heartbreaking to listen to personal testimonials from participants about abductions and torture committed by secret agencies with no regard to the law and beyond normal human behaviour. Gruesome and inhumane scenes of torture are available on social media such as YouTube — it generates despair and anger to see such crimes of torture. More importantly it creates a strong hope for change, as torture is completely unacceptable and without any excuse whatsoever.

Torture has permeated into everyday life and affects any attempt to boost genuine human development in South and Southeast Asian countries. The negative consequences can genuine human can hardly be underestimated and hamper broader development goals. While torture is hitting hard on poor men and women, and excluded and voiceless populations, it is also an instrument of terror and a fear factor for progressive forces in society.

Take for example cases from Pakistan and Bangladesh, where physical and mental torture are used without any reservation in public space and even against high ranking officers in the judiciary, against legitimate parliamentarians from opposition parties, and to deter courageous lawyers and media. Under such conditions, no one is guaranteed freedom from torture.

The participants asserted that there is an urgent requirement for a reorientation within the global human rights movement, from norms education to the understanding of the functioning of domestic legal frameworks, and with that knowledge, to engage with the domestic mechanisms to improve their functioning, or in some jurisdictions where justice institutions are completely dysfunctional, to encourage a comprehensive reform process. The participants expect that international bodies, like the United Nations and regional groupings like the European Union, will reorient their priorities towards this approach in their engagement with Asian states.

The participants emphasized the demand for justice reforms. The basic perception of justice is in most Asian states negated by the impossibility of making complaints; lack of witness protection; absence of training and equipment for scientific investigation of cases; inefficient prosecutions; insensitive and sometimes corrupt judges subdued by the executive, and extensive delays in adjudication that in some jurisdictions can last for decades. Also highlighted in the meeting was the relative difficulty in dealing with detention centres and prisons, and the inhuman practices perpetrated against detainees and convicts. The resultant environment clearly lacks the prerequisites for protecting, promoting and achieving the rule of law, which facilitates the endemic use of torture in Asia.

The participants who laid the foundation of the AAATI believe that it is possible to identify innovative ways of promoting the fight against torture. They observed that today modern facilities, like communication technology, must be used to document and disseminate information and to lobby for change. They also called for the global human rights movement to make fighting torture one of its priority issues. They agreed that justice reforms are crucial, and that fighting impunity without such reforms will remain an illusion.

The causes and contributing factors to the prevalence of torture as well as the concrete measures to eradicate it are context specific, but it is possible to extract common features. The AAATI will fill the gap to ensure that a consolidated generic analysis drawing on experience and research is constructed. A debate with scholars and practitioners should be initiated on the basis of a conceptual framework for ending torture. Core approaches for eradication within different political, legislative, socio-economic, and cultural settings should be established and the effect should be assessed.

The challenge is to foster political willingness for reforms and to capacitate the progressive agents of the state and in the civil society to support a change agenda. There are human rights champions inside each country and they could be part of a wider alliance. Lessons learned from other regions and research will be essential. What sparked the historical abolition of slavery and torture in the western world was the moral outrage and public cry for change. Once Enlightenment writers and legal reformers— such as Rousseau, Beccaria and Voltaire—began to question the use of torture, an almost complete turnabout in attitudes took place over a couple of decades. The barbarism of judicial torture and cruel punishment became a reform mantra in the l770s and 80s, which generated the first waves of torture abolition in Europe.

In essence, the end to torture in Western Europe can be attributed to two main factors. First, the traditional framework of pain and personhood fell apart, and was replaced, bit by bit, by a new framework, in which individuals owned their own bodies, had rights to their separateness and to bodily inviolability, and recognized in other people the same sentiments and sympathies as in themselves. Second, there was a change of the system of penal procedure, whereby witness statements and circumstantial evidence became decisive, and the confession was given less weight. What eventually led to the abolition of slavery was a meticulous effort to document and explain to the English exactly what conditions were like on slave ships and plantations, because slavery was out of sight for the average English family. This evidence of barbarity was used to put relentless political pressure on the politicians who finally decided to abolish slavery.

What can spark outrage and motivate Asia is a continued flow of documentation on torture. The elimination of torture depends upon the continued documentation of torture. It is important to expose what is happening and effectively communicate about torture to the broader population, and especially to wake up the ‘sleeping middle class’.

Increasingly local grassroots and civil society organizations have come under pressure in many Asian countries. In fact, this trend is worldwide. But human rights organizations working on issues dealing with torture and other grave state violations of rights in particular have experienced harassment, threats and even direct persecution by state agents. It is important to counteract the shrinking space for civil influence towards common goals. The AAATI alliance is therefore an effort to intensify the debate on the core problems related to the rule of law and criminal justice systems, and to identify where and how it is possible to act on the national stage or on the international arena.

The RCT is a Danish civil society organization working against necessity to create torture in many countries around the world in close partnership and expand alliances with local human rights organizations. We work prevention and rehabilitation of victims of torture. In stark contrast to the reality in many Asian countries, Denmark is a country governed by law, with almost no cases of torture. In fact, our work is strongly supported by the Danish government. The non-tolerance of torture is a core pillar in the Danish society progressive forces and the anti-torture cause is supported by the vast majority of the population, the government, politicians across parliament, and opinion-makers. However, it was not always so. The history in Denmark is filled with cruel examples of state endorsement and use of torture for confession and for punishment. It was only in the year 1837 that the Danish King abolished torture. And it took a long political and intellectual debate and struggle to come to the conclusion that torture is under no circumstances acceptable in our country.

The AAATI is born from a similar vision as the RCT: to secure a world free from torture. We share a commitment to the long historical struggle against torture. The vision of a torture-free world comes from the necessity to create and expand alliances across national boundaries and between change agents and progressive forces. We are confident that the foundation of the AAATI will create a broader movement that will bring about a stronger engagement of progressive forces working for better results through innovative actions against torture.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Visit our new website with more features at http://www.humanrights.asia.

[From the web] ASIA: Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-treatment launched – www.humanrights.asia

ASIA: Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-treatment launched

A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-Treatment

A group of 26 human rights defenders and organisations, today concluded a five-day regional conclave and formed a unique regional initiative – The Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-treatment (AAAT). The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT), Denmark took the lead to organise the foundational meeting of the AAAT, first of its kind in Asia. The meeting was held from 15 to 19 August at the AHRC’s office in Hong Kong.

Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong were represented in the meeting.

Human rights defenders and jurists discussed deep-rooted problems that result in the widespread use of torture with impunity in Asia in the meeting. The participants shared experiences on what leads to the use of torture in Asian countries and reasserted that there is a close nexus between torture and corruption, and above all, the failure of justice institutions in the region to address this. The participants also shared their anguish about the existing nature of policing in Asia that requires a thorough overhauling to meet the human rights norms expected of state agencies of today.

The participants asserted that there is an urgent requirement for a reorientation within the global human rights movement from norms education to the understanding of the functioning of domestic legal frameworks, and with that knowledge, to engage with the domestic mechanisms to improve their functioning, or in some jurisdictions where justice institutions do not exist, to encourage building them. The participants expect that international bodies like the United Nations and regional groupings like the European Union would make this approach as a reoriented priority of engagement with Asian states.

The participants emphasised that pursuing accountability will remain an illusion without justice reforms. Impossibility of making complaints; lack of witness protection frameworks; absence of training and equipments for scientific investigation of cases; inefficient prosecutions; insensitive and sometimes corrupt or generally non-independent judges; and extensive delays in adjudication that in some jurisdictions could last for decades; negates the basic perception of justice in most Asian states. The relative difficulty in dealing with detention centres like prisons and the inhuman practices perpetrated against detainees and convicts was also highlighted in the meeting. The resultant environment that clearly lacks a mandate of protecting, promoting and achieving the rule of law facilitates the endemic use of torture in Asia.

Drawing inspiration from the anti-slavery movement, the AAAT observed that today, modern facilities available, like in the communication technology for instance, must be used by the human rights movement, to document and disseminate information and to liberally use the developments in technologies of communication in their lobby for change. The AAAT also called for the global human rights movement to make fighting torture as one of the priority issues.

The AAAT resolved to hold regular meetings and to undertake active domestic and international work within the region to bring an end to the culture of torture with impunity in Asia.
# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Visit our new website with more features at http://www.humanrights.asia.

Related articles

[In the news] 3.8M young Pinoys jobless, vulnerable to abuse – InterAksyon.com

3.8M young Pinoys jobless, vulnerable to abuse
12-Aug-11, 10:35 AM | Joseph Holandes Ubalde, InterAksyon.com

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE – 11:42 a.m.) There are 3.8 million young Filipinos who are either unemployed or vulnerable to abuse in their current jobs, the International Labor Organization said Friday, marking the 11th year since the declaration of International Youth Day.

According to the ILO, of the 3.8 million Filipino youth, 1.5 million are still looking for work despite having invested in their education, while the remaining 2.3 million are forced into work that exposes them to abuse because they have not finished formal schooling.

Lawrence Jeff Johnson, ILO director for the Philippines, warned of a possible “lost generation” as the number of unemployed youth worldwide reached 81 million in 2009, the highest ever recorded.

Read full article @ www.interaksyon.com

[In the news] Demolition at San Juan village resumes after brief standoff – Nation – GMA News Online – Latest Philippine News

Demolition at San Juan village resumes after brief standoff – Nation – GMA News Online – Latest Philippine News.

Tension gripped a village in San Juan City anew Friday as residents faced off with a demolition team ordered to take down the shanties there.

Residents of Corazon de Jesus village confronted members of the demolition team and refused to let them destroy their houses, radio dzBB‘s Glen Juego reported.

However, the tension eased after the residents and the demolition team reached a compromise of sorts where the demolition would only demolish the houses of residents who agreed to be relocated.

Some 287 houses in the area were initially scheduled to be demolished, the report said.

The area where the demolition was to take place will be the site of the new government center and City Hall. – VVP, GMA News

[Statement] Asian Parliamentarians Forum on Migrant Workers Manila Statement – 24-26 May 2011 – www.mfasia.org

 

We, Asian Parliamentarians from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka have come together on the eve of the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference. This is a monumental occasion at which the tripartite constituents of the ILO will negotiate the text for an ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, supplemented with aRecommendation. This new international treaty would establish, for the first time, global labour standards for this historically neglected group of workers.

We have collectively deliberated on the vulnerability of Migrant Domestic Workers in a number of host countries, and we recognize the pressing need for strong support of this landmark Convention, setting the minimum framework for national legislation that recognizes the contribution that migrant domestic workers make to the development of both their home and host countries.

The United Nations estimates that a large proportion of the 62 million migrant workers in Asia1 are women who are mostly employed in domestic work. Migrant domestic workers from labour-sending countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, work in households in wealthier countries across Asia and the Middle East. Major destination countries include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. While some migrant domestic workers have positive experiences, our recent field investigations in a number of destination
countries show that many others face the risk of abuse at all stages of the migration process, with serious lack of protection measures and access to justice in destination countries. This is also verified by parliamentarians’ reports of inhumane living and working conditions confronting most domestic workers in the Gulf States.2

Acknowledging that most countries do not include domestic workers in their labour laws, it is imperative that as the ILO begins its deliberations on an international convention, parliamentarians from both labour sending and receiving countries, who have largely
remained on the periphery of deliberations on migration policy, urgently convene around parliamentary processes for the drafting of national legislation that recognizes the rights of domestic workers, the minimum standards for which will be stipulated in the
forthcoming ILO Convention.

To ensure that migrant work is not commodified, and that migrant worker communities are not played off against one another, it is imperative that sending countries unite and agree on a common strategy to urge receiving countries to adopt laws and regulations that promote the interests and welfare of migrant workers.

Recognizing previous attempts at the ASEAN level to promote a greater understanding of migrant worker issues among parliamentarians, and encouraged by the establishment of a committee tasked with crafting instruments to promote the protection of migrant workers within the region, we urge our respective governments to adopt and implement without further delay, a legallybinding instrument of protection for ALL migrant workers within ASEAN.

We call for the formation of an Asia-wide parliamentarians’ caucus on migrant workers to cooperate in the enactment of legislation that would promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers and their families, and in overseeing the implementation of these
laws and multilateral agreements.

Furthermore, we commit to bringing this strong sense of solidarity and collaboration to the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly that will meet in Cambodia in September, 2011.
Finally, we commit to supporting an ILO Convention setting out international standards on decent work for domestic workers, and to work towards the creation and adoption of national legislation that reflects the same.

Signed at Manila by:
Mr. Md. Israfil Alam
Member of Parliament, Bangladesh
Chairman, Standing Committee on Ministry of Labour and Employment
Chairman, Extreme Poverty Cluster of All Party Parliamentary Group

Mr. Shantha Bandara
Member of Parliament, Kurunegala District
Sri Lanka

Representative Walden Bello
Chair, Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs
Philippine House of Representatives

Mr. Mustaque Ahmed Ruhi
Member of Parliament, Bangladesh
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment

His Excellency Son Chhay
Member of the Cambodian National Assembly

Mr. Shehan Semasinghe
Member of Parliament, Anuradhapura District
Sri Lanka

Ms. Eva Kusuma Sundari
Member of Parliament, Indonesia
Commission for Law and Human Rights,
Special Team on Migrant Workers
DPR-RI

footnotes:
1 UN DESA 2009
2 In January 2011, the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs of the Philippines sent a delegation of 5 parliamentarians to
Saudi Arabia. In April 2011, the Indonesian parliament also sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia. Both delegations
investigated the living conditions of migrant workers from their respective countries.

(Dear Friends,

From May 24-26, Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), the Philippine House Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs (COWA), and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) welcomed Parliamentarians from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka to Manila for the Parliamentarians’ Forum on Migrant Domestic Workers.

At the invitation of COWA, our guest parliamentarians joined its Committee Meeting on Wednesday, May 25th to discuss the need for regional cooperation on the issues of migrant domestic workers in Asia, and to engage in a dialogue on ensuring protection for migrant domestic workers from the region. On May 26th, MFA hosted a series of workshops designed to encourage learning and exchange of information among parliamentarians, with civil society organizations taking on a facilitative function, on the changing response of stakeholders to migrant domestic workers’ issues in receiving states, and the roles of parliamentarians in engaging in this important area.

The statement attached is the culmination of the event which outlines the shared commitments of Parliamentarians from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, especially on their countries’ support for the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

The Parliamentarians call for the formation of an Asia-wide parliamentarians’ caucus on migrant workers to cooperate in the enactment of legislation that would promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers and their families, and in overseeing the implementation of these laws and multilateral agreements.

Furthermore, they commit to bringing this strong sense of solidarity and collaboration to the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly that will meet in Cambodia in September, 2011.

Finally, Parliamentarians from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka commit to supporting an ILO Convention setting out international standards on decent work for domestic workers, and to work towards the creation and adoption of national legislation that reflects the same.

The full statement is attached to this email, together with photos and news articles covering the event. You can also access the documents on the MFA website, http://www.mfasia.org

Courage, Peace, Power in a life full of meaning.

William Gois

–Migrant Forum in Asia
85-C Masikap Extension, Central District
Diliman, Quezon City 1100 Philippines
Telephone: (+63 2) 928-2740
Telefax:  (+63 2) 433-3508
Mobile:    (+63) 921-540-5063
Email:    mfa@pacific.net.hk
Web: http://www.mfasia.org)

[From the web] States must comply with regulations when using force during protests – UN Expert

Source: www.ohchr.org

“Ways have to be found to curb the potential loss of life that can occur when peaceful protest turns violent, or excessive use of force is exerted by the authorities” said the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns. “The challenge is to ensure that steps are taken to avert situations where violence and attendant losses of life occur”

Protesters clash with riot police during a demonstration in Athens, Greece © EPA/Simela Pantzartzi

In his first report to the Human Rights Council, Heyns examines demonstrations and the use of excessive force by the police during public gatherings. He assesses the domestic laws of 76 countries and makes recommendations on possible reforms at the national, regional and international levels.

Heyns’ report identifies steps that can be taken to better protect the right to life during protest – that is the lives of the protesters, bystanders and law enforcement officials. It highlights that protecting the right to life is tied to and imbedded in other rights, including the right of peaceful assembly.  If the right to peaceful assembly is suppressed, demonstrations can easily escalate and turn violent. But given due recognition, confrontation can be defused and bloodshed can in many cases be averted.

It is generally accepted that the State has an obligation to maintain public order to prevent social disruption, damage to property, injury and loss of life. For this purpose, a clear set of international human rights law standards has been developed in respect to the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials. The study shows that domestically however, many countries do not meet the international standards.

“The recent events in the Arab world have lowered fear barriers around the world and will have an influence for many years to come. Moreover, demonstrations often coincide with elections, which have increasingly turned violent in recent years… There will be pressure, in particular in countries without established traditions of democracy and human rights, to manage demonstrations”, Heyns notes.

One of his recommendations is to elaborate clear basic principles for crowd control in order to set out the international law standards applicable to non-violent and violent, or legal and illegal demonstrations, with a special reference to the use of deadly force by the police during assemblies.

“The overreaching principle in respect of the use of deadly weapons by law enforcement officials should be self-defence,” said Heyns. “This should be reflected in any revision of the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and other instruments.”

[In the news]Labor-sending countries call for laws protecting migrant workers – Pinoy Abroad – GMA News Online – Latest Philippine News

Labor-sending countries call for laws protecting migrant workers – Pinoy Abroad – GMA News Online – Latest Philippine News.

ANDREO C. CALONZO, GMA News

Lawmakers from the top five labor-sending Asian countries on Thursday urged host countries to enact laws protecting their citizens working abroad.

In a statement issued on Thursday, lawmakers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia called for the passage of laws protecting migrant workers.

The lawmakers made the call to major destination countries for migrant workers such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.

“It is imperative that sending countries and agree on a common strategy to urge receiving countries to adopt laws and regulations that promote the interests and welfare of migrant workers,” the lawmakers said in the statement.

‘Very historic’

Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello, who represented the Philippines, described the collective stand of the Asian lawmakers as “very historic” in trying to push for the welfare of migrant workers, some of whom are suffering from “miserable, inhumane conditions.”

“This is an important effort to coordinate strategies to urge the governments of receiving countries to pass laws and regulations for migrant workers,” he said in a press briefing Thursday.

Bello, who heads the House committee on overseas workers’ affairs, said the five countries will carry this collective stand in other international organizations such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Decent work for domestic workers

The parliamentarians also urged the ILO to craft an internationally-accepted convention on decent work for domestic workers.

“We recognize the pressing need for strong support of this landmark convention, setting the minimum framework for national legislation that recognizes the contribution that migrant domestic workers make to the development of both their home and host countries,” they said in the statement.

The other parliamentarians who attended the event include Md. Israfil Alam from Bangladesh, Shantha Bandara from Sri Lanka, Mustaque Ahmed Ruhi from Bangladesh, Son Chhay from Cambodia, Shehan Semasinghe from Sri Lanka and Eva Kusuma Sundari from Indonesia.

The Philippines currently has over a million migrant workers abroad, mostly in the Middle East. – VVP, GMA News
In the end, Figura believes that as a priest, Bernas is still “pro-life and he is towards the anti-RH bill side.”

Meanwhile, a non government organization has called on the voting public to “learn its lesson” in the next elections and withdraw support from politicians who proposed measures that restrict access to contraceptives.

According to EnGende-Rights, these legislators include Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ralph Recto and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Reps. Roilo Golez (Paranaque), Pablo Garcia (Cebu), Rufus Rodirguez (Cagayan de Oro) and Amado Bagatsing (Manila).

“Those who believe in respecting, promoting, and upholding the rights of women should use their power as citizens to vote for people who will uphold the rights of women. Women are the ones who bear the brunt of the delayed passage of the RH (reproductive health) law and any restriction on their access to the full range of contraceptive methods,” lawyer Clara Rita Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights, said in a press statement.

On Monday, the Senate bills providing for the safety and protection of the unborn will be heard in the Committees on Youth, Women and Family Relations, Constitutional Amendments, and Revision of Codes and Laws.

Last week, the anti-choice bill of Rep. Bagatsing was heard in the House Committee on Revision of Laws with Golez, Garcia, and Rodriguez supporting it. (Virgil Lopez and Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)