Human rights must be at the core of the discussions!

Press release
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On the occasion of the Fifth Asia-Europe (ASEM) Peoples’ Forum, to take place in Hanoi (Vietnam) from 6 to 9 September 2004, the FIDH draws the attention to the human rights situation in a number of ASEM member states.

The Peoples’ Forum, which takes place ahead of the official ASEM Summit of October 8 and 9, will gather civil society representatives from Europe and Asia in order to exchange ideas on the different challenges facing the ASEM process and to issue recommendations in view of the official Summit.

This note focuses on three thematic issues : security concerns and human rights, the situation of human rights defenders and the death penalty. The situation in Burma, whose participation in the ASEM Summit depends on improvements in the field of human rights, is cause for special concern.

The FIDH condemns terrorism and any related acts, as they constitute a serious threat both to democracy and fundamental rights. However, in a number of Asian and European countries, the struggle against terrorism, although legitimate and necessary, entails serious human rights violations. Unjust, discriminatory and arbitrary legislation is adopted or implemented. Security considerations easily outweigh the requirement to respect rights and principles. Furthermore, a worrying trend has surfaced : using supposed anti-terrorist legislation to target human rights defenders and quell legitimate internal dissent.

We consequently call ASEM member states to expressly specify in the final declaration following the Summit that the struggle against terrorism must not be carried out at the expense of the full respect of international human rights law.

In such a security-first environment, it is far more difficult for human rights defenders to get across a message of peace and justice. Positions are more radical, more community-oriented and repression is increasing. The defence of the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence or the prohibition of torture are considered by certain States as irrelevant or dispensable..

In a number of ASEM states, human rights defenders are still victims of assassination (Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand), arrested under national security or State security legislation (China and Vietnam), detained in solitary confinement (Vietnam) or prosecuted (Malaysia). In addition, the life of human rights defenders is particularly at risk in countries weakened by internal conflicts, such as Indonesia or the Philippines.

With the adoption of the EU Guidelines on human rights defenders in June 2004, the EU made clear that the situation of human rights defenders is a key priority of its foreign policy.

We consequently call on ASEM members to make sure that the importance of the role of human rights defenders is explicitly reaffirmed in the final declaration following the Summit.

In the overwhelming majority of the Asian states participating in the ASEM process, the death penalty is still in force. We are concerned at the recent executions in a number of ASEM countries, in spite of previous de facto moratoria. This has been the case in the Philippines and in Indonesia. In China or Vietnam, no information is available regarding the number of executions, in clear violation of international standards.

International law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in particular, recommend the abolition of the death penalty. The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, which notably includes two ASEM states (Indonesia and the Philippines) made the same recommendation in 2000. The EU Guidelines on the death penalty of 1998 set the abolition of the death penalty as a clear objective of the EU foreign policy.

We consequently call ASEM member states to include the objective of the abolition of the death penalty in the final declaration of the October Summit.

Regarding Burma, on 17 August 2004, the UN Secretary-General clearly said that “the National Convention does not currently adhere to the recommendations made by successive resolutions of the General Assembly” and that until the views of the National League for Democracy and other political parties are sought and considered, the National Convention and the road map process will lack credibility and be unable to gain the support of the international community, including the countries of the region.

As stressed by the UN Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, a number of fundamental human rights requirements must be fulfilled in order to initiate a genuine process of political transition in Burma. In particular, political prisoners should be released and political parties should be free to meet in advance of - and during - the Convention in order to discuss their position in the Convention. The delegates to the Convention should be freely chosen and represent the full range of political parties and ethnic minority groups, and should proportionally reflect the results of the 1990 elections.

We call on ASEM states to include the issue of Burma in their final declaration, specifying that in order for Burma to join the process, a number of requirements repeatedly expressed by the UN bodies and mechanisms should be met, in particular the liberation of prominent NLD leaders (Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo) as well as the leadership of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, the second opposition party.

This year, Vietnam will host both the ASEM Peoples’ Forum and the official Summit. The Vietnam Union of Friendship Organiations is in charge of the organisation of the Peoples’ Forum on the Vietnamese side. That organisation is a governmental body. The FIDH and its member and partner organisations express their regret that such a civil society meeting will take place in a country where civil society is severely restrained and where freedoms of expression, opinion, association and information are massively restricted, thus hampering the development of independent NGOs.

We call the ASEM Peoples’ Forum as well as the ASEM Summit to reflect our concerns in their respective final declaration.

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