I am proud to introduce to you
the Asian Human Rights Charter: a people's charter. I have
had the privilege of being involved in the making of this Charter
since its inception. The most important part of that experience
has been the opportunities made available to me to discuss human
rights with so many people from various part of Asia; people
belong to different cultures, different entities and different
walks of life. These contacts and very intense discussions that
have now lasted for over seven years have convinced me beyond
slightest doubt that love of human rights is very much a part of
the mind-set of people in Asia. They believe in their rights,
they aspire for greater achievement of their rights, and they are
bitter about denials of their rights. What is more, many of them
are willing to make sacrifices for their rights.
It is true that the histories of
Asian nations do not often show great examples of rulers who
respected people's rights. The types of controls that have
been exercised over people have often been harsh and even cruel.
What historical political systems had in common, whether the
caste system of India or feudalism in China, was the
unwillingness of rulers to acknowledge the people's wish
that their rights be respected. In modern times, military and
communist dictatorships - and even some political systems
with a democratic fašade -have all shown disregard for
human rights. However no one loves freedom more than those who
were once denied it, and this is also true of human rights.
Today, the aspiration to achieve human rights is contagiously
high among the peoples of Asia, particularly among the young. To
say that human rights are not part of Asian culture contradicts
everything I have seen and heard in all parts of Asia. To say
that it has not been the tradition in Asia for rulers to
respect human rights may in general be true, however even
then there have been some great exceptions: Asoka's reign in
India was such a period. Some historians claim that Asoka's
edicts constitute the world's first declaration on universal
rights. In other nations' histories there may be similar
We are living at a time when
human rights have been accepted as universal criteria. Whether
applied to politics, justice, education, health, economics or
society, human rights are the correct measure for judging human
wellbeing. Human rights have become the central component of any
debate. It is only right that we in Asia try to catch up with
this enormously positive development.
Asia has many problems. In
numerous countries criminal investigation systems are very
defective; torture is commonly used to extract confessions, which
are still used as the main form of evidence in criminal trials.
In many places there are no qualified judges or prosecutors.
Disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and denials of freedom
of expression and association are also common. Hunger remains a
major concern. Children are the victims of all forms of abuse.
Ordinary heath care is a luxury for many and the mentally ill in
particular are neglected and stigmatized. The list of abuses is
Asia's human rights debate
is taking place under these conditions. Solutions to denial of
rights must be found. Such solutions are primarily local.
However, experience shows that there also needs to be regional
cooperation to realise solutions: Asia is very much in need of
regional solutions to human rights problems. It is not right, for
example, that some should die of hunger without response from
others living in the region. Other regions have developed some
common approaches to human rights concerns. We Asians also need
to develop cooperation for implementation of rights. In Asia, we
need a common agreement on what constitutes justice: justice in
all areas of life. That is what this discussion on an Asian
charter is essentially about.
A people's charter is
important. It must state what the people expect to be included in
a regional charter to be agreed on by governments. As a precursor
to a government-sponsored charter, this People's Charter has
engaged many people of Asia in this vital debate. We hope that
this Chinese version will help many more to participate. The
copies of the Chinese version should multiply and reach the vast
population of China. We expect Chinese people will contribute
many insights on the improvement of human rights and prevention
of violations in Asia.
One of the major themes of the
various human rights debates in the world today revolves around
Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, which obligates countries to ensure that any person whose
rights are violated should have an effective remedy. This remedy
must be determined by competent judicial, administrative and
legislative authorities and shall be enforced by these
authorities. The Asian region is very much in need of proceeding
further from mere declarations of rights and moving towards
developing actual systems of enforcement. The main theme of the
Asian Charter is this, and therein lies its relevance.
The sections on enforcement of
rights articles 15 and 16 of this Charter are of unique
importance. These articles deal in detail on the issue of
effective remedies envisaged in ICCPR.
People everywhere want to have
actual enforcement of rights. We hope this charter will
contribute to the debate to make human rights more relevant to
Asia from an enforcement point of view.
Posted on 2001-11-09