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    Human rights defenders worked in precarious conditions as COVID-19 swept through 2020, says Forum Asia report

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    Human rights defenders worked in precarious conditions as COVID-19 swept through 2020, says Forum Asia report

    A recently released study conducted by Forum Asia says that rights defenders in 11 Asian countries (including Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) were unable to perform their mandates effectively as their independence was compromised due to repressive laws.

    Civic spaces continued to shrink and human rights defenders persisted to work in precarious conditions with minimal protection, says a report released by the Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI). The report led by local civil society organisations covers 11 Asian countries, including the SouthAsian countries of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

    The Forum Asia study, ‘Report 2020 on the Performance of National Human Rights Institutions’, gauges the conditions under which Asia’s human rights defenders worked in 2020. It critically assesses the performance of these institutions against the Paris Principles in 2020.

    The report says that the human rights situation in 11 Asian countries continued to deteriorate as “draconian laws and enactment of repressive legislations increased across several Asian countries, under the pretext of COVID-19.”

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    National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Asia faced immense challenges as their independence has been weakened under increasingly authoritarian governments, financial and human resources have been restricted, and work has been impeded by political instability, resulting in failure to comply with the Paris Principles, the report says.

    The Paris Principles are the minimum international standards for ensuring independent, effective, and credible NHRIs for the promotion and protection of human rights.

    The ANNI report reveals that in 2020, most NHRIs were unable to perform their mandates effectively. Their independence has been compromised due to repressive laws, and governments have often excluded NHRIs when developing COVID-19 responses.

    Trying times in SouthAsia

    The gives the example of how Sri Lanka’s 20th constitutional amendment grossly undermined the credibility of the country’s NHRI, raising questions on its compliance to international standards.

    In Pakistan, the report says, the NHRI has remained non-functional since May 2019 due to the lack of political willingness of the government to appoint new commissioners.

    Additionally, the report finds that the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has become complicit in towering human rights violations, especially those committed by the State.

    Similarly, in India, systemic violations of freedom of expression and association through repressive laws, namely the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the National Security Act. Students were arrested and detained as ‘terrorists’ and ‘insurgents,’ while hate speech and violence targeted against the protesters were overlooked by the authorities, the authors of the report say.

    Most NHRIs from the 11 Asian countries also found it challenging to adjust to an unprecedented situation caused and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “If fully compliant with the Paris Principles, NHRIs can drive systemic change, given their unique position as institutions and their mandate to promote and protect human rights in the country,” said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

     

    Image : A riot affected area in North-East Delhi sourced from Wikimedia Commons

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