Human rights defenders in Asia – HRC 25

RE: Human Rights in the Republic of Korea, scheduled for 15.00-17.00 March 12 at Palais des Nations


The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development held a panel on the status of human rights defenders in Asia March 12 at the Palais des Nations. Panellists included Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, as well as civil society representatives from the Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.


Ms. Sekaggya spoke about her experiences in the Republic of Korea, praising the nation’s civil society for how organised and vocal it is in human rights issues. However, she explained that freedom of expression is under threat by legislation aimed to protect national security, citing instances when the rights to peaceful assembly, association and protest were violated because of security concerns. Ms. Sekaggya noted that repression of freedom of expression in Korea may result in self-censorship if corrective measures are not taken.


Representatives from a Korean civil society group confirmed several of Ms. Sekaggya’s points, including the fact that laws do exist that deter assembly and demonstration by the public. They explained that three key strategies are used to repress human rights defenders in Korea – criminalisation of certain protest actions, financial pressure and excessive police force. They joined Ms. Sekaggya in highlighting the police tactic of using buses to barricade demonstrations, which isolates protesters and prevents the public from seeing what type of protest is taking place.


Ms. Nimalka Fernando, a women’s rights activist, spoke on behalf of Sri Lankan human rights defenders. She described the current environment as both restrictive and repressive, explaining that discrediting defenders is the primary method being used to counter their activities. Ms. Fernando recounted how her motives, character and reliability were called into question via state-owned media outlets in response to her work on behalf of human rights, and women’s rights in particular.


The final panellist to present works in interfaith relations in Malaysia. Mr. Ahmad Fuad Rahmat asserted that as a religiously-diverse nation, Malaysia is susceptible to government tactics to create strife between Christians and different Muslim sects. This prevents the groups from working as a united front to defend their common human rights. Mr. Rahmat described how social media has been targeted in Malaysia, because it is a means of mass mobilisation for the promotion of human rights.


The overarching conclusion delivered by Special Rapporteur Sekaggya and panellists representing civil society in Asia was that an environment must be created across Asia that enables defenders of human rights to hold governments accountable to their citizens.