[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 19 April 2006
Review: 121/06

Asian governments' pledges: A mockery of democratic practices

In the last ACHR REVIEW, Asian Centre for Human Rights stated “Voluntary pledge is an important element of democracy. It is not mandatory but almost all political parties, small or big, submit election manifestos prior to elections. Most political parties seldom fulfill the manifestos and in democratic countries, non-performing political parties are kicked out during elections”.

Since then, a large number of Asian governments have submitted “voluntary pledges”. The number of candidates which have not submitted any pledge from Asia have been reduced to minority: Bahrain, India, Indonesia, Jordon, Malaysia and Pakistan.

However, a cursory scrutiny of the voluntary pledges made by Asian countries shows that these are not pledges but statements of self-glorification which are also full of rhetoric that discredited the UN Commission on Human Rights. Asian countries have successfully reduced the entire exercise of making voluntary pledges to a mockery. In comparison to Western European and Other Countries, not a single Asian country has made a pledge to sign or ratify any international human rights instrument or take effective measures at national level such as establishing a National Human Rights Institution. It remains the fundamental difference between the East and the West and the key obstacle to an effective Human Rights Council despite pledges from the Asian states to make it effective. The Islamic Republic of Iran states that “If elected it will spare no efforts to assist the international community to safeguard the Human Rights Council from injustice, double standards, and politicization”. China also stressed on “impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity in the consideration of human rights issues". The Republic of Korea which submitted a half-page statement even failed to highlight the important measures taken at national level such as establishment of a National Human Rights Commission.

Bangladesh: Economical with the truth

For many countries submitting a voluntary pledge is a mere ritual.  Otherwise, why would Bangladesh make a pledge that that it “would remain prepared to be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism”. Since the resolution establishing the Human Rights Council provides for universal periodic review mechanism, can any member State of the UN escape the same? Or should we read that Bangladesh has made a pledge to “protect” its deplorable human rights record before the Human Rights Council and therefore the candidacy.

In its pledge Bangladesh also claims that it “also hosted several special rapporteurs in recent years”.  Bangladesh is being economical with the truth. Bangladesh invited only the Special Rapporteur on Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance in 2000 (A/55/280/Add.2). The Special Rapporteur on violence against women undertook a “Mission to Bangladesh, Nepal and India” to study “Trafficking of women and girls”. It has not allowed other special rapporteurs to visit the country. Bangladesh has not extended invitations to any of the Special Rapporteurs on economic, social and cutural rights and civil and political rights.

This is despite the fact that no other country in Asia in recent memory has justified extrajudicial killings as being done by Bangladesh through the infamous Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in the name of controlling crimes. The RAB formed under the Armed Police Battalions (Amendment) Act, 2003 has 10 battalions with strength of 688 personnel in each battalion drawn from the army, navy, air forces and paramilitary forces. According to a Bangladeshi NGO, Adhikar, the security forces have killed 396 persons between 1 January 2005 and 30 December 2005 out of which 111 persons were killed in the custody of the RAB, 258 in police custody, 4 in the custody of Cobra and Cheetah and 23 in the custody of other law enforcing agencies. Of them, 340 persons died in “crossfire”.

Despite such gross human rights violations, Bangladesh refused to develop any national human rights mechanism. The government started the process of establishing a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in 1995 with the funding assistance from UNDP. Since then Bangladesh government officials like Marco Polos toured all the countries in the world having NHRIs to understand the functioning of the NHRI. However, until today Bangladesh has not been able to establish a NHRI. The idea of establishing a NHRI has been turned into another gravy train as UNDP and other donors continue to encourage Bangladesh to establish one.

Japan: Following the footsteps of Bangladesh on NHRIs

Even though officials of the government of Japan have not toured the world like the officials of the government of Bangladesh, Japan is following the footsteps of Bangladesh to establish a NHRI.

After years of discussion about the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, the draft Human Rights Protection Bill for establishing National Human Rights Institution was made public in 2003. The Draft bill was however set aside. Two years later, in 2005, the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party agreed in principle to resubmit the Human Rights Protection Bill after some modification before the Diet, the Parliament. Until today the Human Rights Protection Bill of 2005  has not been adopted. The government of Japan failed to make any pledge to establish an NHRI while seeking candidacy for the Human Rights Council.

This is despite that a NHRI would have been useful to combat discrimination against indigenous Ainus, Burakumin (descendants of feudal era "outcasts"), Koreans, and alien workers. The Korean permanent residents most of whom were born, raised, and educated in Japan do not enjoy equal rights like the Japanese.  The government of Japan has failed to enforce the Japanese Constitution which provides that everyone shall be respected as individuals, are equal under the law, and will not be discriminated on grounds of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.

China: Long way to go

Undoubtedly, China has enormous human rights problems. At the same time, the pledges of different Asian countries show that China appears to be more engaged in dialogue on human rights issues than other Asian countries. Apart from ratifying five core human rights instruments and submitting periodic reports to the treaty bodies, it has signed Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for technical cooperation. China has also extended invitations to more Special Procedures than many countries which claim themselves as democracies and make false claims of cooperating with Special Procedures. At the same time, it is engaged in human rights dialogue with European Union, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, United States, Australia etc. 

However, China has failed to state as to what positive changes have come out of these engagements with UN mechanisms and dialogues with various countries and make pledges accordingly.


If the pledges made so far are any yardstick, undoubtedly Western countries are more serious commitment to human rights and democracy in comparison to the countries which seek to hide under the garb of "impartiality, objectivity, universality, politicisation and double standards". And it does not depend on the level of economic development. Otherwise, Japan will not be following the footsteps of Bangladesh on the establishment of NHRIs.

If the commitment made through voluntary pledges is a yardstick to cast votes, none of the Asian countries that submitted candidacy are worth voting. Yet, those States which have made genuine pledges can make a difference by not electing those States which are economical with the truth. It is an issue of voting for the bad ones over the worst.

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