10 December 2008

international human rights day; 60 years

today is international human rights day. it is also the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, adopted at the end of world war II. on this occasion, amnesty international has taken out a beautiful children's edition of the declaration, with wonderful illustrations.

although the declaration has become the cornerstone of international human rights principles, and has resulted in other international treaties and norms, there is a stark gap between principles and practice. this is unfortunately true for most regions of the world.

with regards to asia:
(Hong Kong, December 8, 2008) “There is no getting away from the fact that 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the actual enjoyment of human rights in most countries of Asia is even less than what it was 60 years before,” said Basil Fernando, director of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the UDHR, Fernando noted that while there is now more talk about human rights in Asia, the region’s systems are mostly non rule of law systems. “The primary focus in human rights work should therefore be institutional reform,” he said.

According to the Hong Kong-based rights group, the primary obstacles to human rights protection are the defects in justice administration systems. Such defects exist because of the lack of political will to devote adequate funds to the administration of justice, as well as deliberate attempts to subvert justice institutions, so as to place the executive above the law and outside accountability.

In its statement marking the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, the AHRC distinguishes rule of law countries from non rule of law countries. While there are many limitations on human rights even in countries where rule of law systems are well established, in countries where the systems are fundamentally flawed, even the possibility of rights protection does not exist...

“What we have pointed to is a very serious problem,” said Fernando. “After 60 years of the UDHR, we cannot claim that the human rights situation in the region has improved. In many countries, both in civil and political rights, as well as in economic, social and cultural rights, there is a very significant deterioration. We may talk about human rights more than before. The people may be demanding human rights more than before. In actual fact however, violations of human rights have become far greater,” he stressed.

The work of the AHRC reveals that various forms of arbitrary deprivation of rights, torture and denial of fair trial are widespread in many places. There is more unemployment, and despite greater education, particularly among women, the actual enjoyment of rights has not become any easier for large sections of the population, who remain poor. Domestic violence against women is common, as is the deprivation of their personal liberties. Anti-terrorism is increasingly used as a pretext to suspend the rights of entire populations. Life for many remains a nightmare.

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