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In Asia and the Pacific, HRDs have found their own rights violated because of their critical role in promoting human rights awareness and debate at national and international levels. The targeting of HRDs ranged from arbitrary arrests, harassment and legal actions, to threats, intimidation, disappearances, torture, extra-judicial executions and other forms of violence – the first three remaining the most commonly reported forms of targeting in 2014. Several states in the region have enacted legal and administrative provisions in order to silence HRDs. In several countries, the insecurity faced by HRDs was compounded by the lack of independence of the judiciary and by weak national human rights institutions.
Reprisals for accessing international human rights mechanisms continued. In Sri Lanka, those perceived to be cooperating with the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, faced widespread threats and intimidation. In Malaysia, at the beginning of the year, the government declared COMANGO – a coalition of 54 NGOs – unlawful on the basis that several of its members were not registered and that it was promoting ‘sexual rights’. This happened after COMANGO played a critical role in coordinating civil society input into the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Also facing punishment for engaging with the UPR process were HRDs in China, most notably Cao Shunli, who was detained on her way to Geneva to participate in a training in advance of China’s UPR in 2013. She was denied adequate medical attention while in detention and tragically died in March 2014.
Arbitrary detention and judicial harassment were used in Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. In Burma, the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law and the Penal Code were used to target HRDs. In Sri Lanka, HRDs Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan were detained for a few days in March and questioned by officers of the Terrorist Investigation Division. In Malaysia, the Sedition Act 1948 was used during the year against HRDs, academics, pro-democracy activists and opposition politicians; though the Prime Minister had previously announced that the Act would be abolished, in November it was made public that it will remain in place. In Cambodia, 23 HRDs were given suspended prison sentences for participating in labour rights protests, and in November ten women HRDs working on land rights issues were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment on charges of ‘obstructing traffic’ and ‘aggravated obstruction of public officials’. In Bangladesh, several HRDs were detained in August when they joined a peaceful hunger strike organised by garment workers. Defamation and libel suits have been used against HRDs in Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea.
In China, dozens of HRDs protesting against corruption and calling for constitutional government were arrested, with some of the key actors in the movement being imprisoned or currently awaiting trial on charges such as ‘gathering crowds to disrupt public order’. In October and November, scores of HRDs around the country who had voiced their support online for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were detained and travel bans were enforced to ensure that Chinese HRDs could not join the protests.
Repressive legislation and administrative regulations were introduced to limit the work of HRDs through restrictions on funding, by making legal registration mandatory and complicated, or introducing project approval processes. In China, wide-scale investigations into NGOs across the country took place, with individual organisations reporting increased questioning and harassment, especially in relation to sources of funding from overseas. In the southeastern province of Guangdong, new regulations stipulated that NGOs in receipt of foreign funding must report to regulators 15 days in advance of accepting the funds. In Cambodia, several new laws including laws on associations and non-governmental organisations, cyber crime, telecommunications and trade unions were proposed, which are expected to restrict the work of HRDs. In Bangladesh, the government is in the process of adopting new legislation imposing funding restrictions as well as other limitations on the work of NGOs, including mandatory prior approval from multiple authorities for all activities as well as a duty to inform authorities when travelling abroad for human rights work.
The failure of governments to protect HRDs from non-state actors and pervasive impunity for the perpetrators remained a serious concern. In Pakistan, prominent human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman was killed in his office in May by unidentified gunmen. No progress has been made in the investigation. In Burma, Phyu Hnin Htwe, who worked to build awareness on the potential impact of the Letpadung mining project, was arrested in September based on a lawsuit by the mining company, alleging that she was involved in the abduction of their employees. She was released a month later after the company withdrew the case. Cases of HRDs targeted by non-state actors, such as extremist religious groups, organised criminal groups, businesses or political party cadres, were reported in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, the Maldives, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
In Afghanistan, a culture of impunity and the absence of the rule of law continued to affect HRDs. Women HRDs remained particularly vulnerable, especially when working on issues of transitional justice and accountability or exposing violations by warlords, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and the Taliban. Besides the potential return of the Taliban, women HRDs were affected by the growth of conservatism, which has already produced setbacks including limitations to the role of independent women’s groups in the running of crisis shelters.
The Philippines remained the country with the highest number of killings of HRDs in the Asia region: ten HRDs were killed there as of mid-November. In India, five HRDs were killed and one took his own life due to continuous harassment.
Smear campaigns were widely used to discredit HRDs and their work. In India, a report by the national intelligence agency released in June named several NGOs, both foreign and national, and termed their work as ‘anti-development’ and ‘anti-state’, accusing them of being responsible for a lost 2-3% of GDP growth. In Bangladesh, China, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, government representatives and government influenced media were used to propagate smear campaigns against HRDs. On Chinese social media sites, a number of HRDs were subjected to false accusations and general attacks on their character, including questioning the motivation for their human rights work.
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25 June 2007
- Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
- Diplomacy Training Program
- Asian Human Rights Commission
- Human Rights and Peace Society (Nepal
- Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
- Human Rights Council of Australia
- Human Rights in China (HRIC)
- Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) (Burma/Thailand)
- Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) Indonesia
- Tenaganita SDN BHD (Malaysia)
- Urban Poor Consortium (Indonesia)
- Women’s League of Burma
- Olympic Watch: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008
- SAFE (Support for Afghan Further Education)