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FOCUS December 2000 Volume 22

Workshop for Human Rights NGOs in Asia and the Pacific

The Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding (ACEIU) held its first regional workshop entitled "Workshop for Human Rights NGOs in Asia and the Pacific: Challenges and Strategies for the Protection of Human Rights" in the ACEIU training center in Ichon, Korea on 4-6 December 2000. The Korean National Commission for UNESCO formally opened ACEIU in close collaboration with UNESCO (Paris) in August 2000.

The workshop took up the following agenda:

  1. Current status of human rights in Asia and the Pacific;
  2. Economic globalization, new technologies, and human rights;
  3. Human rights education as empowerment; and
  4. NGO response to the current human rights situation in Asia and the Pacific.

The workshop developed/strengthened links among human rights NGOs in Asia and the Pacific.

NGO workers from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand participated in the workshop. Invitation was sent also to groups in Vietnam, People's Republic of China, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea. But they were not able to send representatives.

The NGOs present in the workshop represent a variety of concerns from women's rights to environmental and indigenous peoples' issues.

The participants are junior or middle-level program officers of the NGOs. The workshop was designed to provide these NGO workers the opportunity to widen their view of human rights work through a regional discussion of human rights issues and activities.

Invited resource persons discussed several issues. The presentation on the current legal mechanisms being developed in the region in support of human rights took note of the UN efforts on regional human rights mechanism. It also pointed out the regional forum of national human rights institutions in Asia-Pacific.

The presentation on globalization and human rights pointed out that the current economic system works more for those who are already economically advantaged and adversely affect those who are poor. In times of economic crisis, the poor become poorer. And in the name of competitiveness, less economic benefits are given to workers.

The presentation on human rights education dealt with the enabling environment existing in the countries in the region. It consists of reform in the formal education system, government human rights policy, constitutional provisions relating to human rights, the persisting economic crisis, and the UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004). It stressed the need for human rights education to counter problems of misunderstanding of human rights, and to relate human rights education programs to the issues confronting each country. It was pointed out that much of human rights knowledge has to be linked with the necessary skills in practicing human rights.

The presentation on NGO response to the issues in the region pointed out the new international interest on human rights. This is due to the inte-rest on global governance and human security. The Kosovo issue presented the problem of global governance while the economic crisis brought the need for human security (which translates into individual security). It was also pointed out that NGOs have become very visible in the global go-vernance discussions at the international level. It was stressed that while Asia-Pacific NGOs have participated in international activities on these issues, there are many divisions among them. Much of their time is consumed by fighting each other rather than developing a common stand.


[ First regional workshop of ACEIU for NGOs ]

The discussions on the issues reveal the persistent problems in the region. National security laws, restriction on and exploitation of women, negative effects of development projects and business activities on the livelihood of the poor and on the environment, abuse of children, unsettled issues of the refugees and the violations of members of the security forces are some of the issues mentioned.

The negative effects of globalization are seen in the failure of people displaced by economic projects (such as those in the rural areas) from adopting new skills needed by the new industry. This leads to their marginalization. Governments, in turn, while encouraging new industries to come in have no program to help those who are displaced by the operations of the industries. And even those who find work in the new industries are not necessarily properly benefiting due to the usual cheap labor requirement. Added to this are the problems faced by foreign workers, and their families at home.

There are also problems relating to corruption in government, fraudulent elections, and failure of governments to implement human rights programs.

As a response, the participants cited a number of human rights education activities. There are many initiatives relating to schools and non-formal education programs. Training for teachers, lawyers, NGO workers, local government officials, and members of the police are being undertaken. For the informal education activities, some NGOs provide interesting examples. Television and radio advertisement campaigns to create public opinion on human rights issues (such as domestic violence and the role of the police), and mass human rights weddings (that require the couples to pledge to abide by human rights principles in their lives together)1 are cited.

It was also pointed out that national NGOs strengthen their capacities by focusing on specific issues, doing campaigns, gathering international support, using the internet to disseminate information, supporting the development of the NGO movement, and formulating common declarations on human rights concerns.

With these activities, NGOs can pressure governments to act on issues, disseminate information, share resources, do joint projects, and obtain support for their involvement in international activities.

Many participants suggested a focus on human rights education activities for government personnel including members of the police and the military. This idea seems to have greater appreciation among the NGOs at present as compared to the NGO perception a decade ago.

The workshop provided ACEIU a good opportunity to become known to NGOs and other players in the field of human rights. It also helped ACEIU identify the needs of human rights NGOs in the region so that it may better serve them in its future programs and activities.

ACEIU aims to facilitate research, training, and exchanges of ideas and experiences in the areas of peace, human rights, tolerance, and democracy in the Asia-Pacific region. In this way, it can contribute to a better understanding and solidarity between peoples in the region.

It is the latest regional institution that can help promote human rights through training and research.

HURIGHTS OSAKA assisted the ACEIU workshop. The Asian Regional Resource Center for Human Rights Education and the Asia-Pacific Centre for Human Rights and the Prevention of Ethnic Conflict (Murdoch University - Australia) also provided support.

For further information contact: Mr. Lim Hyun-Mook, Korean National Commission for UNESCO, UNESCO House 8F, Myung-dong 2-Ga, Choong-gu, Seoul 100-022 South Korea, ph (822) 755-3015; fax (822) 755-7477; e-mail: hmlim@unesco. or. kr


Endnote

  1. 1. On December 10, 2000, a mass human rights wedding for 36 couples was held in Taipei in celebration of Human Rights Day. See Taipei Times (December 10, 2000).

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