More than thirty years ago, a call was made on Japan to support the promotion of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region in order to prepare the ground for the proposed establishment of a regional human rights mechanism.
This call was made in 1983, when the region had just started discussing the United Nations (UN) proposal for a human rights mechanism in the vast and highly diverse Asia-Pacific region. It was made a year after the first UN-organized regional seminar on human rights was held in Colombo that formally discussed the proposal for the establishment of a regional human rights mechanism. The response of the UN member- states in the region was lukewarm, justified by practical difficulties. Nevertheless, the UN proposal was a valid one, considering the need to address the human rights situation in the region at that time.
The governments and peoples in the region were at that time probably not yet ready for this kind of mechanism. Regional human rights promotion was instead seen as an appropriate step that should be undertaken.1
Yo Kubota, a United Nations officer, called for the establishment of a “Human Rights Information Center in Asia” that would help promote human rights in the region. While he was calling on Japan, as a state, to take this challenge, his proposal was taken up instead by the local social movement in Osaka where he spoke about this idea in 1983. The local social movement supported his idea of establishing such a center on the “strengths of the people and the local governing bodies.” The anti-discrimination movement in Osaka (principally consisting of the anti -Buraku discrimination movement, the Korean residents movement and other groups) saw this proposal as an appropriate project for the local governments in Osaka.
A decade-long negotiation by the local anti-discrimination movement with the Osaka city and prefectural governments led to the establishment of a local institution named Ajia Taiheiyou Jinken Jouhou Senta (Asia- Pacific Human Rights Information Center) in the summer of 1994. It was established with the joint financial support of the local governments and the social movements consisting of the anti-discrimination movement, a labor union, a religious organization, an organization of private corporations, etc. The Osaka city mayor, Osaka prefecture governor, a senior adviser to the then newly created Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the widow of Yo Kubota, who unfortunately failed to see the fulfillment of his idea due to his death while on official mission in Africa, attended the inauguration ceremonies.2
The center, also known as HURIGHTS OSAKA, was established as a local institution that promoted human rights in the Asia-Pacific region.
It should likewise be noted that the same social movement in Osaka lobbied the Osaka city and prefectural governments to support the establishment of a human rights museum. The lobby started in 1982 and the museum was established three years later, in 1985, and named Osaka Human Rights Museum (popularly known as LIBERTY OSAKA) with support from the Osaka local governments.3
At the establishment of HURIGHTS OSAKA in 1994, the objectives were stated as follows:
These objectives gave HURIGHTS OSAKA a unique character of being a local institution with a regional (Asia- Pacific) perspective. They reflected a strong regional, or international, consciousness among the people and institutions that worked for its establishment.
In mid-1990s, the idea of a human rights center for Asia- Pacific with support from local governments and the local social movement was ahead of its time.
HURIGHTS OSAKA came into existence a year after the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights was held in Vienna; a conference that attracted much attention from governments and the non-governmental organizations in Asia and the Pacific. This conference seemed to have influenced the establishment of national human rights institutions in several countries in Asia either before or after it was held, and helped stoke alarming discussion among governments about an Asian version of human rights. The Vienna conference also caused the first massive mobilization of Asia- Pacific non-governmental organizations working on human rights during the preparatory conference in Bangkok in March 1993.
Regionally speaking, HURIGHTS OSAKA was established at the right time. Human rights constituted an important concern that Asia- Pacific governments could not ignore in mid-1990s.
A number of regional non- governmental organizations working on specific human rights issues regarding women, children, workers, indigenous peoples, and other vulnerable sectors were already existing from early 1990s. National human rights institutions were being established in a number of Asian countries during this period. And the United Nations had started its regional workshops on human rights.4
What then should HURIGHTS OSAKA do for the Asia-Pacific region under this situation? What kind of program should it espouse that would respond to the needs of the region?
Promotion of human rights was certainly a task HURIGHTS OSAKA must perform. And to pursue this task, HURIGHTS OSAKA was aided by the international initiatives on human rights promotion particularly the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004).
At the outset, HURIGHTS OSAKA adopted the following activities:
HURIGHTS OSAKA’s regional activities had to contend with limited financial and human resources, however. HURIGHTS OSAKA could not launch a program that could be implemented over several years. It had to search for project funds to start its regional program. Its projects received support from private funding organizations, national human rights institutions and government ministries in other countries in Asia, and also from United Nations agencies. As a matter of policy and procedure, HURIGHTS OSAKA works in partnership with non- governmental organizations, government agencies, national human rights institutions, and also international organizations in order to address resource limitation and to have greater chances of achieving project objectives.
HURIGHTS OSAKA is a human rights center. It gathers, processes and disseminates human rights information of various kinds and from different sources. Despite limited resources, HURIGHTS OSAKA has been able to implement several regional projects since its establishment in 1994.
In support of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education, HURIGHTS OSAKA launched a regional human rights education program. The program started with a research project on the culture-human rights issue, the focus of debate on the universality of human rights in early 1990s. The program continued with consultation workshops, development of human rights teaching materials, training workshops, more research projects, collection of human rights education materials, and preparation of publications.5 The continued implementation of the regional program led to the collection of information on human rights education (in the form of teaching and learning materials, program implementation reports, audio-visual materials, etc.) from institutions in various countries in Asia and the Pacific. HURIGHTS OSAKA also implemented research projects on other issues including development and human rights, and business and human rights.
A major collection of information in HURIGHTS OSAKA relate to human rights education as a consequence of its regional program. Other information covers various human rights issues and sectors in Asia and the Pacific, court decisions on human rights, declarations on human rights, and human rights centers.6
HURIGHTS OSAKA has been conscious of the existence of numerous human rights organizations in the region that operate at national and regional levels. HURIGHTS OSAKA has been constantly seeking their cooperation in implementing projects and in undertaking its regular regional activities such as preparation of publications (quarterly newsletter, annual publication and research reports).
As a human rights center, HURIGHTS OSAKA also promotes the role of fellow human rights centers in the region. In 2001, it started identifying institutions in the region that have the human rights center function (that is, gathering, processing and disseminating information related to human rights).
HURIGHTS OSAKA sees the value of making people in the region appreciate the services that human rights centers can provide. The profile of the human rights centers reveals a variety of services that can address people’s needs such as maintenance of library or resource centers that offer human rights materials to the public, provision of human rights education activities in various educational forms and for different types of audiences, monitoring of the human rights situation (local, national and regional levels), and provision of protection service for those who suffer human rights violations.
It classifies these centers as non- governmental organizations (NGOs), university-based research and outreach centers, and government-supported institutions. Some centers are based in local areas, away from the capital city, and thus provide a very important institutional resource for the local people and groups.7
To be able to promote the human rights centers, HURIGHTS OSAKA published in 2008 the Directory of Asia- Pacific Human Rights Centers with one hundred eighty one centers. In 2013, the second edition of the Directory was published with two hundred forty eight centers covered. Many more human rights centers were profiled from Central and West Asia in the second edition of the Directory, showing the existence of such centers in majority of the countries in Asia and the Pacific.
Human rights promotion in the vast Asia-Pacific region has to be done at various levels by a wide array of institutions such as human rights centers, national human rights institutions, and government agencies with human rights programs. The UN agencies in the region play very important role. The Social Development Division of UNESCAP (United Nations Economic, Social Commission for Asia-Pacific), designated in 1988 as the regional human rights focal point, was “encouraged” to act as “depository centre of United Nations human rights materials within the Commission in Bangkok, the function of which include the collection, processing and dissemination of such materials in the Asian and Pacific region.”8
HURIGHTS OSAKA advocates the appropriate functioning of, and support for, these institutions in promoting human rights in the region. They constitute the major mechanisms for human rights promotion that operate not only at the regional and national levels but also at the community level in some countries.
HURIGHTS OSAKA celebrates its twentieth year of existence in 2014. It continues to pursue its original goals although several challenges surfaced during the last five years regarding resources and organizational structure. Necessarily, it has also redefined its goals. In 2012, HURIGHTS OSAKA stated its goals as follows:
While the promotion of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region remains a goal, the current goals of HURIGHTS OSAKA have distinct stress on promoting human rights at the local level. Perhaps, this is a way of formalizing the actual situation of HURIGHTS OSAKA as a local institution whose resources are largely devoted to domestic activities.
During the first decade of its existence, HURIGHTS OSAKA relied much on “physical facilities” for visitors (such as library, audio-visual equipments, computers and also a microfiche machine [for old UN documents]). But during the second decade, it began to rely more on “digital space” using its website (www.hurights.or.jp) as a major mode of information dissemination. HURIGHTS OSAKA also maintains an e- mail listserv, an online magazine, Facebook and Twitter accounts that are used to disseminate information on local issues and activities. The e-mail listserv, online magazine, Facebook (www.facebook.com/ hurightsosaka) and Twitter ( https://twitter.com/hurights_osaka) accounts are in Japanese language.
The current domestic activities of HURIGHTS OSAKA consist of seminars, “human rights tours,” telephone and online information service, and publication. It will hold during the last quarter of 2014 a human rights film festival, poster exhibition, workshop on human rights centers, and a symposium on children to celebrate its twenty years of existence.
Despite the challenges, the implementation of the regional program of HURIGHTS OSAKA continues. HURIGHTS OSAKA proceeds to seek partners in different parts of the region for its activities, and to search for relevant information that can help promote human rights in the region.
Jefferson R. Plantilla is the Chief Researcher of HURIGHTS OSAKA.
For more information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.
1. See UN General Assembly resolution 37/171 of 17 December 1982 on the report of the Seminar on National, Local and Regional Arrangements for the Protection of Human Rights in the Asian Region, held in Colombo from 21 June to 2 July 1982.
2. See HURIGHTS OSAKA Newsletter, volume 1, 28 February 1995 for the reports on the opening ceremonies of HURIGHTS OSAKA held on 7 December 1994.
3. Nobutoyo Kojima, “LIBERTY OSAKA: Promoting Human Rights to All,” FOCUS Asia- Paci fic, volume 57, September 2009, full text available at www.hurights.or.jp/archives/focus/section2/2009/09/liberty-osaka-promoting-human-rights-to-all.html.
4. See “UN Workshops on Regional Arrangement for Human Rights in the Asia- Pacific,” FOCUS Asia-Pacific, volume 7, March 1977 for a report on the intergovernmental workshop on human rights. This article is available at www.hurights.or.jp/archives/focus/section2/1997/03/un-workshops-on-regional-arrangement-for-human-rights-in-the-asia-pacific.html.
5. See Jefferson R. Plantilla, “Regional Programming on Human Rights Education,” Human Rights Education in Asia-Pacific, volume 4, pages 195-250, for more information on the regional human rights education program. The article is available at www.hurights.or.jp/archives/
6. The major categories of the content of the English section of the HURIGHTS OSAKA website reflect the kind of work and information being sought and disseminated under the regional program. See www.hurights.or.jp/english/ for more details.
7. For more information on the human rights centers visit: Directory of Human Rights Centers in the Asia-Pacific, www.hurights.or.jp/english/directory-of-hr-centers.html; and its wiki version: http://hurights.pbworks.com/w/page/11947500/FrontPage.
8. Regional arrangements for the promotion of human rights in the Asian and Pacific region, UN General Assembly, A/C.3/43/L.63, 22 November 1988, page 2.