“A new approach to Human Rights in Asia” – Round Table discussion with Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando, leading Asian human rights defender and Right Livelihood Laureate 2014, is giving his introduction to a round table talk on the Human Rights situation in Asia. His presentation gives an overview of typical Human Rights violations in Asian countries and he starts off by asking the Swedish participants to ask themselves; can these violations happen in Sweden?  Have these kind of Human Rights violations ever taken place in Sweden? And if they did – but no longer do – why is that?


On 2 December, ILAC together with the Folke Bernadotte Academy and The Right Livelihood Foundation, hosted a round table discussion on the broad topic on “Human Rights in Asia”.  Basil Fernando and his team from Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) starts off the by introducing the seminar with an extensive and highly depressive list of Human Rights violations in Asia. By presenting cases of people being deprived off their fundamental rights, harassed, tortured and eventually killed. In country after country.
– Unfortunately this is the “general situation” in Asia, says Basil Fernando. There are only two exceptions from this, and those are Hong Kong and South Korea. And one of them very much under attack at the moment. We need a new frontier in the HR field and that is institutional reforms.

Democracy traditions and the Rule of Law
With the two exceptions in mind, Richard Zajac-Sannerholm, Head of the Rule of Law Departement at the Folke Bernadotte Academy, referred to Mr Fernandos’ initial questions on Swedens’ history on Human Rights.
– It’s important to remember that there is just a little more than 100 years since the state executioner carried out the last execution in Stockholm, and even though we don´t have a perfect system in Sweden and the rest of Europe, there’s a clear link between a democratic development and the Rule of Law.

Democracy being the base for development of Rule of Law, and the Rule of Law key for the protection of Human Rights, the round table discussion focused on the view on human rights in the west and the east. How much of international legal assistance is needed, and how much is basically a question of internal development in Asian countries?
– Of course there needs to be a combination of both, says Basil Fernando. The best way of taking steps forward, is by focusing on practical matters, and not philosophical abstract ideas. We might have different traditions, but when it comes to the issue of police beating up people in custody, I don’t accept that more than you do just because I’m Asian, he says.

Development needs timing
Per Sevastik, associated researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, with many years experience from teaching at several Chinese universities, sees the difficulties, but also calls for new innovative ways of including the Chinese leadership in a dialogue on human rights.
– As long as a country delivers a strong economy, human rights violations will be overlooked, Per Sevastik says. This is why we need new innovative ways in the Rule of Law work, and we need to show results.

Jack Clancey, chair of the Asian Human Rights Commission, pointed out that legal assistance and development is also a question of timing.
– You don’t plant vegetables in Sweden in this weather, Mr Clancey says. But the economic development in China will eventually lead to democracy and a stronger protection of human rights.

Domestic debate creates change
And despite the long list of countries violating the basic human rights, there is hope. Through its Human Rights School and training initiatives, the AHRC has educated countless lawyers and activists on the principles of fair trial and the rule of law, thereby greatly advancing an Asian movement working towards the realisation of human rights for all. But we do need assistance to help change our structures within the police and the judiciary.
– By developing best practice on the ground, our work will also improve the domestic debate in many countries where basic human rights are now systematically being violated, says Basil Fernando. And this is really how we make change in the long run.

More pictures from the round table discussion can be found here.