How Asians Commemorate Human Rights Day, 2007

13 Dec

Activists around the world celebrate international human rights day on December the 10th with events ranging from protests to conferences, highlighting human rights violations perpetuated by governments against their own people. This article looks at some of the activities that have been organised in Asia, a region where authoritarian and democratic nations alike, continue to see its people suffering from human rights violations:

* The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) based in Hong Kong released its annual report of the human rights situation in 11 Asian countries to coincide with this year’s International Human Rights Day. Some highlights of the report include its criticism of the Bangladeshi government for imposing a state of emergency since February this year which has led to an increase in lawlessness and human rights abuse. On Burma, the organization calls for the United Nations and its close neighbours – China, India and Thailand to intervene. AHRC reported that the Cambodian government exhibits “hostility towards UN human rights mechanisms, particularly the special envoy appointed by the Secretary General.” Political repression towards critics occurs in the form of criminal lawsuits and arrests, whilst land and labour disputes continues. The various states in India is accused of turning a “blind eye” towards extrajudicial killings and widespread custodial torture. The state of Gujarat has also been “running interrogation chambers to ‘elicit’ evidence from the suspects in an Indian version of Guantanamo Bay.” Human rights violations in South Korea are mainly related to legislations and treatment of migrant workers; the rights of “irregular” workers; restrictions on freedom of assembly, and the continued use of the National Security Law. Despite signing a peace accord with the Maoists, the Nepalese society has not shown much stability with increasing fears that the country will slide back into chaos. The suspension of the constitution in Pakistan and emergency rule imposed by General Pervez Musharraf met with heavy resistance in the form of streets protests from lawyers and its general population. The mass uprising has led to wide-spread detention of human rights activists and tightening media restrictions. Human rights activists, labour unionists, peasant leaders and others continue to face grave threats to their lives in Philippines according to AHRC. The 2007 Human Security Act also gives excessive power to the police under the guise of combating terrorism. Thousands of people are arrested in Sri Lanka this year “purely on the basis that they are Tamil, and on the other hand both parties to the conflict, the armed forces and LTTE, have engaged in attack of civilians killing many.” AHRC criticises the military coup imposed since last year in Thailand and its new constitution which is “set to return power to a civilian government only after an election that it is also clearly determined to manipulate as much as possible.” On the military, the organization said it has awarded itself huge funding increases without external accountability, and “reestablished a cold-war era command to oversee domestic affairs.”

* According to Democratic Voice of Burma, government officials stationed themselves outside the home of prominent activist, U Myint Aye, who conducted a “ceremony to mark international human rights day”. 100 people were estimated to have attended the event. They include diplomats in the US Embassy, human rights activists and ordinary Burmese. Various representatives ranging from Asian Human Rights Network to the 88 generation students, read statements and letters, criticizing the military regime’s human rights violations. The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy condemned the government for severe human rights abuses towards the ethnic minorities, including the deprivation of the ethnic minorities’ right and freedom to promote their culture and literature.

* Despite the Malaysian Bar Council decision to stop its annual human rights day march due to government warnings, some 60 lawyers and human rights activists continued with the endeavour, resulting in 8 of them being arrested. According to the Reuters report, the protestors wore white surgical masks, symbolizing the ban on free speech with a banner reading “Lawyers for Freedom of Assembly.” Edmund Bon, head of the Bar Council human rights committee, was also arrested for allegedly preventing enforcement personnel from removing “publicity banners placed on the Bar Council’s buildings” according to an IPS article. IPS recorded a total of 23 arrests on the eve of International Human Rights Day where the activities were held. Prominent opposition politicians, Tian Chua and Mohamad Sabu, and another 12 activists, were arrested for ‘illegal assembly’ while on Human Rights Day morning, five lawyers and opposition politicians marched in Kuching, East Malaysia.

* Neighbouring Singapore commemorated the fateful day with 4 events organised by different groups. Three human rights lawyers delivered a petition to the Law Society urging the organisation to be more independent and critical towards the establishment. They appeal to the society to “campaign for the repeal of the section in the Legal Profession Act which prevents the Law Society from speaking on existing or proposed legislation” as well as conducting human rights training for lawyers amongst other recommendations. The Online Citizen, a Singaporean based news blog also reported that a group of Burmese and Singaporean activists, walked in pairs in the city, distributing stickers and fact cards, explaining the need for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. The website also reported that SG Human Rights organised a “speak-a-thon” at the Speaker’s Corner in which activists and politicians deliver “short speeches on their areas of concern in relation to human rights.” Think Centre, a human rights NGO, together with Singapore Working Group for ASEAN, co-organized a public forum on December 8, focusing on issues such as single motherhood, migrant workers and social work.

* The 2,000 numbered Philippines demonstrators held more colourful protests compared to their Singaporean and Malaysian counterparts. According to an AP report, they marched in Manila on the day itself, carrying “posters depicting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as a vampire, while some were chained to other activists dressed as Uncle Sam, Arroyo, and security officials.” before being stopped and dispersing peacefully, several blocks away from the Presidential Palace. The mostly left wing protestors were aghast at state sanctioned killings and disappearances. Human rights group, Karapatan, documented more than 800 killings and almost 200 disappearances under the Arroyo administration during the past 6 years. UN official on extra-judicial killings and political disappearances, Philip Alston, who wrote a preliminary report this year, pointed out that the Philippine military is involved in systematic “hunting left-wing activists as part of a four-decade-old conflict with communist rebels.”

* The 500 people who marched for social justice in Cambodia was led by two personalities: the UN’s special envoy for Human Rights, Yash Ghai and the US ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli. Ghai has voiced criticisms on the Hun Sen government regarding land grabbing and corruption.

* Ironies of ironies, in Taiwan, about 50 displaced patients of Lo Sheng Sanatorium, held a sit-in to protest against the opening of Taiwan Human Rights Jingmei Park in Sindian, which was built to commemorate victims of military repression during Martial Law. On the same day, the renaming of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall to National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall and opening of Liberty Square also drew protests. Protestors accused the government of “changing” history while the authorities argued that Chiang Kai-Shek is a military dictator who should not be honoured.

* 5 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representatives, denied an entry visa to China, staged a protest in Hong Kong on International Human Rights Day instead. They unfurled a 15 metre square flag showing the Olympic rings transformed into handcuffs outside the Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong. The press rights group, in its media release, noted,”The Chinese authorities are clearly not prepared to let people remind them of the undertakings they gave to improve the situation of human rights and, in particular, press freedom when they were awarded the 2008 Olympics in 2001… We have to do something as we are just eight months away from the start of the Olympic Games. In view of the International Olympic Committee’s silence and the Chinese government’s refusal to keep its promise to improve respect for rights and freedoms, we have a duty to draw attention to the disastrous situation for free speech in China. The Chinese government must take firm action before the games, starting with the release of the hundred or so detained journalists and cyber-dissidents.”

* “Stop custodial killings”; “Halt human rights violations” are some of the slogans that protestors yelled in main city, Srinagar Kashmir, against the Indian government for unaccounted killings and disappearances. Out of the estimated 500 activists who attended the demonstration, 50 were arrested while police blocked the others from marching to the UN office. Both India and Pakistan claims Kashmir to be part of its own country. Marked by unrest since 1989, human rights groups estimated that at least 60,000 people have been dead, an another 10,000 missing. To protect their identities from security police, the activists wore masks. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik also engaged on a two day hunger strike from the 9th “to protest against the increasing violation of human rights in Kashmir” according to The Hindu. He was joined by people of the Kashmir Bar association, the Employees Unions, the Trade Unions, and members of the intelligentsia, including Gyanpeeth Award winner Rehman Rahi, Zarif Ahmad Zarif, Sheikh Mohammad Iqbal and others. A torchlight procession ensued.

* After lawyers led mass protests against the sacking of Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, journalists are the next to step right up to protest against the military dictatorship in Pakistan. To commemorate International Human Rights Day, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) through its affiliates called and organised mass rallies in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Faisalabad, Sukkur, Quetta and other parts of the country. The nation-wide protests garnered lawyers, activists, and students who expressed solidarity with the PFUJ in its campaign to protect the freedom of the media as well as the basic human, social and economic rights of journalists.



1. Statement of Asian Human Rights Commission for International Human Rights Day 2007, December 10, 2007

2. Activists celebrate international human rights day, Democratic Voice of Burma

3. Malaysian police halt human-rights day march, Reuters, December 9, 2007

4. Malaysia: Arrests of Peaceful Protestors Mar Rights Day, IPS, Anil Netto, December 10, 2007

5. Lawyers M Ravi and Chia Ti Lik hand petition to Law Society, Singapore Democrats, December 10, 2007

6. Local activists commemorate International Human Rights Day, theonlinecitizen, December 10, 2007

7. International Human Rights Day – Celebration, Think Centre, December 5, 2007

8. Philippine rally calls for an end to alleged human rights abuses, AP, December 10, 2007

9. UN envoy, US ambassador lead rare human rights march in Cambodia, AFP, December 10, 2007

10. Protesters heckle Chen at park opening, Taipei Times, Tuesday, December 11, 2007

11. China – 2008 Beijing Olympics, Reporters Without Borders, 10 December 2007

12. Indian police arrest Kashmiri rights protesters, AFP, December 11, 2007

13. Yasin Malik begins two-day hunger strike to focus on rights, The Hindu, December 10, 2007

14. Pakistan: Call to remove media curbs, Asia Media, December 10, 2007


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