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FOCUS March 2006 Volume 43

Forum on Human Rights in Asia

Koonae Park*

* Koonae Park is a staff member of HURIGHTS OSAKA

A regional forum for dialogues among peoples and governments in Asia on the development of an Asian regional human rights mechanism was recently inaugurated in Seoul. Dubbed "Asia Human Rights Forum", it aims to provide a venue for exchange of ideas on human rights issues. It also aims to support the development of subregional human rights system for Northeast Asia to complement similar efforts in South and Southeast Asian subregions

The first forum, held on 6-7 February 2006, focused on child labor and trafficking. More than 200 participants (including guests from 8 countries and several international organizations) attended the 2-day forum. Representatives of non-governmental organizations working on the child labor and trafficking issue, and members of academe gave presentations

Mr. Man-ho Heo, Director of Asia Human Rights Center (ACHR), one of the forum organizers, emphasized the importance of addressing the child labor and trafficking issue. Mr. David Oud, Director of Anti- Slavery International, another forum organizer, stressed that child labor is a contemporary form of slavery. The organizers urged the use of the forum as means to help governments seek solutions to child labor and trafficking and foster regional cooperation to protect the victims

Child labor and trafficking in Asia

Several presentations reviewed international human rights instruments, the different situations of child labor and trafficking, and the measures being taken to prevent child labor and trafficking and help the victims

The keynote speech by Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn of Chulalongkorn University dwelled on the international instruments governing child labor particularly the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, as well as the complicated and changing nature of child labor and trafficking. He also cited the existence of domestic laws in many countries regarding the issue and the problem of law enforcement. He stressed the need for "effective implementation [of the laws], responsive and gender-sensitive programmes and practices, quality personnel and mechanisms, adequate resources, extensive information and education, and broad-based cooperation and empowerment both within the countries and across borders."

Panel presentors focused on the general situation of child labor in Asia and the proposed concrete measures to counter the problem; the situation of domestic workers (Philippines), child rugmakers (Nepal), bonded child laborers (India) and the children in North Korea. Mr. Jonathan Blagbrough of Anti-Slavery International, cited the measures to address the issue proposed by the child laborers themselves including

  • provision of opportunities for education and training which allow them to move on from domestic work
  • assistance in seeking redress from abusive and/or exploitative employers
  • provision of more services that cater specifically to their needs
  • not alienating the employers so that they become part of the solution
  • developing interventions that are long-term and also address particular problems such as early pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.

Ms. Norma Kang Muico of Anti-Slavery International presented the plight of 40,000 North Korean children who could die from poor diet and related illnesses. She also presented cases of North Korean children who, as undocumented migrants in China, are facing many difficulties including trafficking, and severe punishment if deported back to North Korea. She called for more attention on the plight of North Korean children by the international community

Professor Akio Kawamura of Kobe College (Japan) briefly introduced the Japanese experience regarding the Japanese government's attitude and policy on trafficking and the support for trafficking victims by Japanese NGOs since the 1980s

Initiatives to address the issue

Other presentors shared good experiences in dealing with children domestic workers, rugmakers, and bonded laborers

Mr. Hans van de Glind of ILO presented the projects supported by ILO for the prevention of child trafficking. He mentioned the Mekong subregional project and the project in China. He cited preventive measures at the sending areas such as identification of areas and youth at high risk, community mobilization, provision of services (education and skills training, awareness raising and empowerment), and informed and safe labor migration and job placement. At the receiving cities, the measures can be identification and analysis of "bad demand" areas and sectors, community mobilization to support the needs of migrants, improved access to services by incoming migrants and victims, review of inspection practices and monitoring of the informal sector, mobilization of workers to campaign against trafficking, and mobilization of employers for decent work

Mr. Severino Gana, Chairperson of Task Force on Anti-Trafficking in Person (Philippines), presented the features of a 2003 national law on anti-trafficking.[1] He mentioned some results because of the law: adoption of the National Strategic Action Plan against Trafficking in Persons (2004-2010), the deployment of police and prosecutors for trafficking cases, and the arrest and prosecution of a number of suspected traffickers (as well as rescue of victims). A number of complaints are either under investigation prior to filing charges in court or are already pending court cases. Two cases against suspected traffickers have already led to their conviction

Participants' reactions

The participants recognized the fact that the globalization process has been worsening the child labor and trafficking situation. The problem is now occurring all over Asia. They emphasized the need to make the citizens' understanding of, and concern for, human rights grow, and to strengthen international networking for the establishment of appropriate human rights protection system in Asia

Among the participants were many students who participated actively in the sessions. They asked questions to the panelists. There were also Korean government officials, NGO workers, and representatives of embassies of 18 countries. The number and variety of participants show the high level of concern for this kind of forum in Korea at present

The situation in South Korea

South Korea is already a destination country of trafficked women (mainly from Southeast Asian countries) and a sending country (to North America and Japan) as well. Recently, a Korean woman who was trafficked to Japan and forced into prostitution sued the broker and the owner of the night club with the support of NGOs. Trafficking issues outside Korea however have not yet become a major concern for Korean citizens. They say that the struggle against trafficking at the international level has just begun in Korea

After the forum, the Second Annual Workshop for Young Activists was held at the same place. 80 young activists attended the forum, 75% of them were females

The organizers

Mr. Benjamin H. Yoon, President of ACHR has been a human rights activist for long time. During the 1970s-80s period when South Korea was under military dictatorship, he devoted his time to protecting the human rights of political prisoners. Since 1996, when the NGO Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights was established, he has been involved in the human rights issues in North Korea. Actually, there are debates among Korean NGOs on how to treat the human rights situation in North Korea

The forum, held at the Korea University in Seoul, was co-hosted by the ACHR, Anti-Slavery International, the Graduate School of International Studies of Korea University, the Institute 21 for Peace Studies, and sponsored by the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, the Ministry of Labour, and other institutions

For further information, please contact: The Asia Center for Human Rights (ACHR), 4f, Simji Bldg, 10- 22 Gyobuk-dong, Chingno-gu, Seoul, Korea 110-090; ph (822) 723-1673; fax (822) 723-1671; e-mail: achr@achumanrights.org; www. achumanrights.org

Endnote

1. This law is known as Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (Republic Act No. 9208, 26 May 2003).


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