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FOCUS June 2000 Volume 20

HURIDOCS and the Asia-Pacific

Manuel Guzman

Early Years

HURIDOCS, a network of human rights organizations involved in systematic monitoring, information handling and communication of human rights issues, was formally established in 1982. The founding organizations agreed that information is power, and that modern technology should and could be harnessed for the defence and promotion of human rights. And to this end, standardization of tools to strengthen information handling and exchange is important.

It was seen that there was a lot of expertise and experience among the founding - as well as potential - members of the network from all over the world. The task at hand then was to bring together such expertise and experience to produce universal tools that can be used everywhere.

The first tool that HURIDOCS introduced was the set of Bibliographic Standard Formats for use by small human rights libraries. But since much of the early activities of HURIDOCS revolved around Europe, it was felt that HURIDOCS needed to do more. It needed to: 1) conduct more training in the South; and 2) develop a tool that NGOs can use in monitoring human rights violations.

Any effort to monitor human rights requires capable, accurate, and skilled NGOs who can inspect the data included in government reports on its human rights performance. The credibility and effectiveness of human rights organizations is based on their ability to collect, verify, analyze, and disseminate timely information on human rights violations. Scientifically collected and interpreted data can be used by human rights groups to authoritatively publicize the extent and character of human rights violations, find out which population groups are most affected, and identify people responsible for violations. Careful documentation of individual cases of human rights violations is critical for successful prosecution. Swift communications to the media and international human rights organizations can be decisive in bringing attention to urgent cases. Sophisticated quantitative analyses of large amounts of data can reveal patterns of abuse that reflect government policies rather than individual aberrations.

In November 1988, HURIDOCS held in Manila its biggest training activity so far, the training course "Human Rights Information Handling in Developing Countries." It was a month-long training course with about 20 participants from various parts of the globe. Discussed were such fundamental topics as the basics of human rights, the international protection system, and the importance of information, as well as specific tools and techniques like the Bibliographic Standard Formats and the technique of indexing.

Also in Manila in November 1988, HURIDOCS convened the first meeting of the Task Force on Events. The Task Force was given the job of producing a tool for monitoring human rights violations. It drew its membership from national NGOs from various regions (for Asia, it was the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines) together with international NGOs like Amnesty International and S.O.S.-Torture. The Task Force went on to produce the Events Standard Formats. These formats now have computer application called WinEvsys.

Since then, the Asia-Pacific region has always been a beehive of activity for the HURIDOCS network. Many key HURIDOCS activities had been held in the region. For instance, HURIDOCS organized the "Meeting on Human Rights Information and Exchange in the Asian Region" in New Delhi on 8 to 10 December 1990.

Another very important HURIDOCS event was the international workshop "Towards More Effective Information Handling: An International Workshop on HURIDOCS Training Services," held in Pattaya, Thailand in 1994. The workshop discussed means of strengthening the training services of HURIDOCS. One proposal is the development of a trainers' manual. A subsequently drafted manual was used in a recent trainers' training course held in Manila in April 2000.

Information Work in Asia-Pacific

A very dynamic NGO movement exists in the region led by many frontline human rights groups that were created in response to crisis situations. These groups have shown a strong interest in exchanging experiences in collecting, processing and disseminating information in countries confronted with civil war, repression, destitution and neglect, and where working conditions for human rights NGOs are difficult. They are also concerned about the possibilities and constraints for human rights work in countries that are going through democratization process.

The needs of the various organizations have been addressed by some regional and international organizations. For instance, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-Asia) successfully organized training courses in different Asian countries. These training sessions are complementary to the courses held by HURIDOCS. In several instances, HURIDOCS held training courses on fact-finding for NGOs previously trained by FORUM-Asia.

Improving the skills of frontline local, national, and regional human rights organizations in the fields of monitoring and documentation remains high in the Asia-Pacific agenda. The need has increased because of new organizations emerging in the region, as well as due to the refocusing of work by older groups. Initially, numerous human rights organizations built up expertise in the field of civil and political rights, but activities in the fields of economic, social and cultural rights and collective human rights are fast increasing.

The strengthening of the information handling capacity of human rights organizations in the region can best take place through a coherent program consisting of training (both courses and on-site training), provision of tools and equipment, and sustained support service.

Regional Network and Focal Point

To address training needs in the area of information work, HURIDOCS convened the "Asian Regional Meeting on Human Rights Information Exchange and Networking" in Hong Kong, from 24 to 28 September 1993. The participants of the meeting decided to set up a regional network, called HURIDOCS Asia, and designated a focal point to implement its activities. Focal points refer to human rights NGOs within the HURIDOCS network which agreed to act as regional resource centers that do such tasks as distribution of tools, providing advice and assistance in and conduct of training. The first Asia-Pacific focal point was RAHAT - Voice Against Torture in Pakistan.

During the Fourth HURIDOCS General Assembly held in Tunisia on 26 March 1998, HURIDOCS Asia was transformed into a committee for training of trainers. This responds to the most urgent need of having more resource persons who can provide training, advice and support to human rights organizations in the region. This committee, named Asia-Pacific Committee for the Training of Trainers (ACTT),

  1. Determines the training needs of human rights NGOs in the region;
  2. Studies and adapts the various training modules of HURIDOCS to meet the identified training needs;
  3. Ensures that a sufficient number of trainers are identified and adequately trained to cover among themselves the various relevant topics for training;
  4. Facilitates regular contact among the trainers for continuous updating of skills and knowledge and for their involvement in actual training activities; and
  5. Guides the operations of the HURIDOCS regional focal point to meet these goals.

The General Assembly delegates from the Asia-Pacific region elected four members of the ACTT:

  1. Aurora Javate De Dios (Philippines), a member of the HURIDOCS Continuation Committee and Chairperson of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women - International;
  2. Agnes Camacho (Philippines), a member of the HURIDOCS International Advisory Council and program officer of the Psychosocial Trauma Program of the University of the Philippines Centre for Integrative and Development Studies;
  3. Ayesha Iqbal (Pakistan), a member of the HURIDOCS International Advisory Council and Director of the Education & Information Development Programme in Pakistan ; and
  4. Kathleen Maltzahn (Australia), a member of the HURIDOCS International Advisory Council and representative in Australia of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women - Asia Pacific.

In a related development, HURIDOCS designated the Coalition against Trafficking in Women - Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) as the current regional HURIDOCS focal point.

ACTT formulates plans and oversees their implementation, while CATW-AP provides the secretariat services and carries out day-to-day activities.



ACTT Activities

ACCT has planned a number of activities to be carried out in 2000 and beyond. Among these is a needs assessment survey of Asia-Pacific NGOs. A major activity undertaken recently is the regional workshop "Developing Regional Training Resources" held in Manila from 27 April to 4 May 2000. The workshop was deemed very successful with the following results:

1. Equipping a number of representatives of Asia-Pacific NGOs with skills and knowledge on training in general and on teaching HURIDOCS tools in particular.

Sixteen participants from Australia, Cambodia, East Timor, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines and Thailand attended the training. Four of them served as resource persons. These are HURIDOCS Executive Director Manuel Guzman, (a co-author of Training the HURIDOCS Way, the manual for HURIDOCS trainers); Agnes Camacho and Kathleen Maltzahn, both of ACTT, and Jean Enriquez, Deputy Director of CATW-AP.

2. Establishing the regional pool of trainers and putting in place mechanisms to sustain it.

The participants agreed to initiate training activities in their respective areas, and to make themselves available as resource persons where needed, as well as perform other functions such as the following:

  • Provide on-going back-up and technical, conceptual and other support to groups that they have trained;
  • Promote monitoring, information handling and communication tools that can improve the work of NGOs; and
  • Act as bridge between ACTT and local organizations.

A listserv has been set up to keep the participants in contact.

3. Development of a four-year plan for ACTT

The participants also enumerated the future activities of ACTT such as training courses in their own countries. Other features of the four-year plan are:

a. Adaptation or development of training modules which are appropriate for the region (this process was started in the training course itself); and

b. Production of training materials which are appropriate for the region.

Other Activities

For its 2000 Annual Program, HURIDOCS plans to conduct training courses in East Timor, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. The partners have been identified and the planned courses are in varying levels of preparation. One training activity that is on-going (May to June) is a course for the staff of the Cooperation Centre for Afghanistan (CCA), an Afghan NGO based in Pakistan. CCA requested HURIDOCS for a one-month on-site training to support the establishment of a human rights violations documentation system. The HURIDOCS resource person provides training on skills development, and then oversees the application of skills in the establishment of the system.

Since mid-1996, HURIDOCS and the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have been implementing a project to develop resources for monitoring economic, social and cultural rights. Among the tools that have been produced or about to be finished are:

1. Thesaurus of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

It consists of a large number of terms related to economic, social and cultural rights, and offers cross-references among them. It is the foundation of a monitoring system and serves as an educational tool at the same time. It has been published and can also be accessed at http://shr.aaas.ethesaurus/.

2. Handbook of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

It explains economic, social and cultural rights and related matters in a popular way, with national-level NGOs as the main audience. Its writing was completed at the end of 1999.

3. Rights-specific manuals.

The development of a series of rights-specific resource manuals is one of the most exciting parts of the project, especially because they are being produced in cooperation with partner NGOs. Each manual focuses on a particular right, and discusses the most appropriate methods of monitoring, (e.g., what indicators to use). Partner organizations were identified to produce each of these manuals, and the actual writing has begun.

Philippine NGOs, such as the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights) have helped in the project by reviewing and providing feedback on the tools in the course of their development.

One of the rights-specific manuals is on the right to housing. The Habitat International Coalition based in New Delhi is the project partner.

Conclusion

One of the earliest goals of HURIDOCS was to develop universal tools. But it does not end there. There is a need for the tools to be made appropriate to the specific needs of users.

HURIDOCS and CATW are currently partners in the development of gender-responsive human rights monitoring systems. This partnership started in 1996 in a training course where HURIDOCS introduced its tool for monitoring violations. Since then, members of CATW have been reviewing and adapting the tool to the monitoring of violence against women.

This illustrates a very important process -- the adaptation of tools. Organizations in the Asia-Pacific region have been among the first to get hold of the generic tools developed in the HURIDOCS network. Now, they are again in the forefront in refining these tools further. HURIDOCS is proud and grateful to have them as committed partners.

In other words, thanks to Asia-Pacific organizations, HURIDOCS is living up to its mandate of making things happen as a network.

Manuel Guzman is the Executive Director of HURIDOCS. He can be contacted in this address: huridocs <huridocs@comlink.org>


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