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FOCUS December 1996 Volume 6



A year has passed. It is the year that witnessed a range of State responses to issues with human rights implications.

The conviction of two former Presidents of South Korea for illegal assumption of State authority provides an example of accountability for the resulting human rights violations (though the process of arriving at the conviction is being questioned by some quarters in the human rights movement in south Korea). While the amnesty for a faction of the Khmer Rouge (and the subsequent appointment of Khmer Rouge officers as government military officers) shows how a State uses the need for national reconciliation to justify skipping the rules of accountability.

Armed conflicts continue to flare in the region. States have so far failed to reach a political solution to the problems in Kashmir and northeast India, Tamil areas in northern Sri Lanka, Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, Karen areas in Burma. Peace processes have not been as successful as hoped for.

United Nations-sponsored Vietnamese refugee camps finally closed in various Asian countries. Some refugees have returned to Vietnam, others repatriated to other countries, and some settled in a former refugee camp. But camps of Burmese, Bhutanese and Bangladeshi (Chakma) refugees continue to exist in Thailand, Nepal, and India respectively.

Child labor and the trafficking of girls and women have remained largely intact in many countries in South and Southeast Asia. Governments have not been heard much on this significant issue.

While colonialism is almost at its end in Asia, it is still a long way to go for a number of South Pacific territories.

National elections have been held in Taiwan, Thailand, Bangladesh and Japan. Some leaders remain in power others were changed.

States generally refused to discuss human rights at the inter-governmental fora from ASEAN to APEC to WTO. The constructive engagement policy of ASEAN symbolizes this attitude. In the spirit of ASEAN solidarity, governments (such those of the Philippines and Malaysia) continue to stifle the right to peaceful assembly in order not to embarrass Indonesia on the East Timor issue.

The 1996 picture is not all negative however. Regional inter-governmental gatherings (such as on human rights education, national human rights institutions, and child rights) provide a brief respite from the general avoidance of human rights issues by governments.

Adding to this positive note are the continuing efforts of non-governmental organizations in trying to engage the governments in a dialogue on human rights on such occasions as meetings of ASEAN, APEC and other meetings of governments.

May 1997 be a far better year for human rights.

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