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FOCUS November 1995 Volume 2

UN and the Realization of Human Rights in Asia-Pacific

For three days in late July 1995, around forty people involved in various levels of human rights work gathered to reflect on the role of the United Nations in the Asia-Pacific. The meeting was organized by HURIGHTS Osaka as a fitting contribution to the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the United Nations as well as the first anniversary celebration of the founding of HURIGHTS Osaka.

The meeting was attended by high officials of the United Nations (namely, Mr. John Pace of the Center for Human Rights and Mr. Philip Alston of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), representatives of regional non-governmental organizations (Mr. D.J. Ravindran of Forum Asia, Mr. Basil Fernando of Asian Human Rights Commission, Ms. Mieko Fujioka of IMADR and Mr. Kamalinne Pinitpuvidol of Child Rights Asianet), professors of law in Korea and Japan (Professors Paik Choon-hyun, Koshi Yamazaki, and Kohki Abe), and representatives of Japanese human rights groups. Professors Kinhide Mushakoji and Dong-hoon Kim of HURIGHTS Osaka were also present.

There was a rich sharing of ideas and experiences on the main topic of United Nations and its human rights work as well as on issues relating to women's rights and human rights workers. The conclusions and recommendations of the meeting are presented separately in the next article.

One interesting point raised is on the "schism" that broke up the human rights concept into two parts: civil and political rights on one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. This occurred when respective covenants were drawn up for each set of rights in the early 50's. For some time, the work of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations have focused almost exclusively on civil and political rights. This later on brought the criticism by some governments that human rights (being centered generally on civil and political rights) are mainly Western ideas. The Vienna conference in 1993 ended this schism and declared that human rights are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The United Nations is thus called upon to promote all human rights.

On the otherhand, there is some uncertainty on human rights discussions in the post-Cold War United Nations. Without a clear alignment of countries into two contending camps, decisions on human rights are unpredictable. Member-states exercise greater leeway as dictated by their respective interests. This is a hindrance in the process of deciding on proposals to realize human rights.

The question of human rights violations was also addressed to the United Nations itself as far as its peacekeeping work is concerned. It was stressed that human rights violations in peacekeeping activities occur and should be monitored by separate United Nations human rights body.

While the creation of the Office of High Commission for Human Rights is lauded, there was a strong appeal for the provision of appropriate financial and human resources in order that coordination of United Nations agencies and response to actual human rights problems will be possible.

The United Nations was likewise called upon to increase its involvement on human rights issues in the Asia-Pacific region. It has enough facilities in the region which can be used to promote human rights or even facilitate the establishment of regional and national human rights mechanisms.

Due to the slow response of governments in Asia-Pacific to the call for the establishment of a regional human rights mechanism, a practical option of continuing inter-governmental dialogue on this issue is seen feasible. To this end, both government and non-governmental organizations are asked to help organize these dialogues.

On the side of the human rights organizations, it was pointed out that they need to establish closer relationship with grassroots communities. Human rights work must be able to address the root causes of human rights violations - a task that requires more sophisticated skills and programs. This likewise relates to the integrated view of human rights by which human rights defenders are redefined as those working for civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.

The discussions on women's rights present the problem of human rights work. It shows the perennial problem of establishing good networking system among women's groups, and between women at the grassroots level and the women's international movement. The case of women's movement in Japan is an example of this problem. Despite availability of some resources, there is still a difficulty of coordination and engaging in joint action. This situation however is certainly not limited to the women's movement - considered to be one of the strongest human rights movements at present . Many other sectors have not, in fact, reached the same level of organization as the women's movement.

The meeting was thus a refreshing exercise that brought to the fore major tasks for the United Nations and other human rights institutions/organizations to fulfill in order to realize human rights. It set out an agenda that will move one step forward the achievements in today's human rights work.

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