A Papuan activist commemorates the West Papuan declaration of independence from Dutch rule in Jakarta on Dec. 1, 2015. (Reuters Photo/Darren Whiteside)

Asia's Human Rights Activists Condemn Brutal Past and Present, Call for Brighter Future


DECEMBER 15, 2015

Jakarta. Recipients of the Gwangju Human Rights award took part in a two-day "Torture and Violence in Asia" workshop in Indonesia, hosted by activist organizations to highlight the dire human rights violations committed across Asia.

The recipients — hailing from Nepal, Bangladesh, Iran, Sri Lanka, India, Laos and Indonesia — were joined by human rights monitor Imparsial, the May 18 Memorial Foundation and the Indonesian Association of the Families of the Disappeared (IKOHI).

Scores of Indonesia's human rights abuse cases have yet to be investigated, including the 1965/66 anti-communist massacres, the disappearance of dozens of human rights activists and the deaths of university students during the 1998 Jakarta riots.

The lack of response and accountability from the government has allowed those responsible for these heinous crimes to go unpunished, activists say.

Current human rights concerns in Indonesia also go unreported and are rarely investigated — particularly in Papua, they added

"The human rights situation in Papua has shown no progress," said Imparsial chief Poengky Indarti.

"Development programs introduced by the government tend to be pro-investment rather than pro-people. This inequality worsens human rights abuses," added Latifah Anum Siregar, chairwoman of the Alliance for Democracy in Papua and an expert on the Commission for Law and Human Rights for Papua.

"For Papua, we urge the Indonesian government to hold peace dialogues and stop the use of torture. We also encourage Indonesia to open the province up to foreign journalists."

Unresolved human rights atrocities are common across the continent, spurring activists from across the region to join their Indonesian counterparts in highlighting the need for transparency.

"Irom Sharmila Chanu, a human rights defender, has been detained by the Indian government. He has been on a hunger protests for 16 years because of AFSPA [a law targeting 'threats' to national security]. The UN Human Rights Committee has requested the Indian government lift AFSPA, but [official] just turned their [heads]," said Sushil Raj Pyakurel, a prominent human rights activist from Nepal and recipient of the 2010 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights (GPHR).

Governments around the region have introduced similar repressive laws to ban the use of Skype, social media and other websites. Drones and torture are used as enforcement in some countries, most rigidly in Bangladesh which has cracked down on personal liberties in the name of national security, activists said.

According to data from the Asian Federation Against Disappearances (AFAD), around 60 percent of the world's enforced disappearances occur in Asia, with Pakistan and Sri Lanka topping the list with thousands of citizens missing.

The eight laureates presented a united front in calling on governments across Asia to end torture and increase efforts to solving past atrocities while also preventing them from happening in the future.

Ratification of the United Nation's International Convention on Protection of All Persons From Enforced Disappearance is crucial, they said.