Asian Human Rights Day Campaign

Source: Think Centre

Human Rights Day is observed by the international community every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Its formal inception dates from 1950, after the Assembly passed a resolution inviting all States and interested organisations to adopt 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.

On 10 December 2006, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) will be launching a two-year Asian Human Rights Day Campaign: Ratify, Remove, Report and Remedy together with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society groups throughout Asia.

This campaign will be held every year on Human Rights Day until 2008, culminating in the dual commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (known as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders).

Joining the UN Secretary General’s call to make 2008 the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the 60th anniversary of the UDHR more meaningful, we sincerely hope that Asia achieves a new milestone in human rights improvement by adopting these recommendations.

Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, Brunei and Bhutan worst in Asia

Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, Brunei and Bhutan have the worst ratification records in Asia, all having ratified only two treaties-the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

These governments have not even accepted the two basic covenants on civil and political rights (ICCPR) and economic, social and cultural rights (ICESCR). Without acceptance of these core treaties, there are little legal guarantees to ensure that the fundamental rights of all individuals are respected, promoted and protected. We therefore specifically urge these governments, in particular Malaysia, as a member of the Human Rights Council , to ratify all the core international human rights treaties.

Asian governments adverse to individual complaint procedures

We are alarmed by the fact that our governments have not accepted procedures which allow individuals to submit complaints of human rights violations directly to the international committee of experts.

There are currently four individual complaints procedures under the treaty body system. These are:

1. First optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which allows individuals to submit cases of violations relating to any civil or political right;

2. Optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which allows individuals to submit cases of violations of women’s rights;

3. Declaration under Article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which allows individuals to submit cases of any discrimination based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin;

4. Declaration under Article 22 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which allows individuals to submit any cases of physical or mental acts of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Given the lack of a regional human rights mechanism in Asia, coupled with inadequate domestic guarantees, international complaints procedures are particularly important to ensure the effective delivery of justice to human rights victims.

Recommendations for Singapore

· Singapore has the worst ratification record in Asia, alongside Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, and Malaysia.

· We urge the government to ratify the remaining treaties as soon as possible and guarantee the fundamental rights of all individuals, as stipulated in the international human rights treaties.

· Singapore has also entered 36 reservations to the two treaties it has ratified, making the country the worst in Asia for both its record on ratification and reservations.

· We strongly urge the Singapore government to remove all reservations currently in place as soon as possible.

· Singapore must also implement the existing concluding observations by the treaty bodies and ensure that its international treaty obligations are translated into practice.