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FOCUS December 2006 Volume 46

Human Rights Defenders' Forum 2006


The 2nd Regional Human Rights Defenders' Forum (HRDF) with the United Nations (UN) Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders (SRSG on HRDs) was held in Bangkok on 28-29 November 2006. Human rights defenders (HRDs) from a number of Asian countries attended the forum along with representatives of governments and national human rights institutions in Asia, regional and international human rights organizations, and UN agencies.

The forum, organized by FORUM Asia and the Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), had the theme "Towards Full Implementation of the UN Declaration on HRDs in Asia - Strengthening the Role of HRDs."

Main speakers

The wives of prominent HRDs who either disappeared or died in Thailand (Ms. Angkana Neelaphaijit) and Indonesia (Ms. Suciwati) respectively spoke at the forum.

Ms. Hina Jilani, the current SRSG on HRDs, in addressing the forum said that every work being done by HRDs directly and indirectly constitutes a tribute to those who died working for human rights. She said that leadership, which could bring about a reconciliation of ideologies and could organize the work of the different HRDs, is needed. She stressed that diversity in the work of HRDs must and would exist - and must be sup- ported not eliminated. She also called for the creation of strong national and regional networks of HRDs as proposed by many HRDs themselves. These networks could facilitate discussions and debates at regional level on concrete ideas toward global thinking.

She emphasized that the legitimacy of the human rights community comes from its rootedness in social movements. She urged mutual reinforcement between social movements and human rights work.

She stressed the need to broaden the conception of HRDs to include all those who work for human rights - be they civil and political, or economic, social and cultural rights. She lamented that people who work among indigenous peoples, peasant and rural poor, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are still largely not recognized as part of the human rights community.

She also pointed out that the UN Declaration on HRDs is fast becoming a "soft law" which contains universal principles. She argued that the role of the civil society to protect human rights cannot be derogated or suspended even in cases of emergency. Civil society must also be recognized as member of the international community, in addition to states. Its exclusion weakens human rights, and the human rights instruments and standards.

Others speakers (Ms. Sunila Abeysekera of INFORM in Sri Lanka, Mr. Kieren Fitzpatrick of the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, Mr. Park Kyeong Seoh, Korean Ambassador for Human Rights, and Mr. Guillaume Pfeiffle of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) spoke on women HRDs, and the role of governments, national human rights institutions and the UN respectively.

Working groups

The participants broke into working groups to discuss the role of national human rights institutions, governments and the international agencies in protecting HRDs, as well as the practical experiences of protecting HRDs within and outside the country.

FORUM Asia facilitated the adoption of the Bangkok Commitment which states the concerns and ideas for the promotion and protection of HRDs in Asia.

The final activity of the forum was the launching of the first International Women Human Rights Defenders Day in Asia. APWLD organized the presentation of a documentary on Asian women HRDs. Several women HRDs gave testimonies on their experiences. The special program also paid tribute to the work of Ms. Jilani.

For further information, please contact: FORUM-ASIA Secretariat, Baan Vichien, Apartment 3B, 220 Soi Sukhumvit 49/12, Klongton Nua, Wattana, Bangkok 1 0 110, Thailand; ph (662) 391 8801(ext. 502); fax (662) 391 8764; e-mail: anselmo@foru m -;