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18th HRC Regular Session: Panel Discussion on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Peaceful Protests

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Tuesday, 13 September 2011 – Thank you, Madam President. FORUM‐ASIA welcomes the holding of this important panel discussion which reaffirms the rights of individuals and peoples to publicly express their grievances and aspirations for change. It is our deep concern, however, that many States including those in Asia have often responded to such assemblies through brutal crackdowns by State security forces using exceedingly disproportionate means including rubber bullets, tear gas and even live ammunition against civilians,such as what we witnessed in Thailand in May last year. We are also disturbed to learn of the police attacks on 30 May 2011 in Katunayake, Sri Lanka, against peaceful protesters in the Free Trade Zone who were demanding better wages and work conditions. In the incident, 200 people were injured with one protester shot dead and 100 others were detained after police opened fire at the unarmed crowd. FORUM-ASIA strongly urges that States firmly entrench their human rights obligations in managing demonstrations and exert every means not to escalate the situation where violence is incited. We draw the particular attention of the Council to the report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions (A/HRC/17/28) which outlined a set of evolving principles for policing assemblies.
Madam President, FORUM-ASIA maintains its call that domestic legislations which unduly and significantly restrict the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly must be immediately repealed. The Penal Code and relevant Directives of Burma/Myanmar prohibit public gatherings of more than five people, including a ban on marching in procession, chanting slogans, delivering speeches, etc. In Singapore, any gathering of five or more people for non‐social purposes is considered an illegal assembly. The arbitrary and prolonged application of national security laws and emergency regulations are additional grave concerns. For instance, the Malaysian government applied preventive detention laws to hold peaceful protesters, such as 6 members of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) who were arrested in connection to the Bersih’s electoral reform rally on 9 July 2011. As echoed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its report following the country visit to Malaysia in June 2010, the Malaysian government should repeal all preventive detention laws including the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance.

Madam President, drawing from the Council’s resolution A/HRC/RES/14/5, we stress that all branches of the State have the primary responsibility in the prevention of human rights violations, noting also that national human rights institutions (NHRIs) have a key role to play in contributing to prevention. In this light, FORUM-ASIA welcomes the noteworthy initiatives of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) during the 9 July 2011 rally to dispatch an independent monitoring team to the rally,conduct visits to places of detention, among others.(1)  SUHAKAM’s response must be replicated by other NHRIs in the region. Lastly, we would like to get the views from this distinguished panel on the need for the UN human rights mechanisms to further elaborate human rights standards and principles on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, which would provide concrete guides to States when reviewing relevant laws and practices. Thank you, Madam President.

(1) FORUM-ASIA, Open letter to SUHAKAM on the Intimidation Against the 9 July Electoral Reform Rally in Malaysia, 1 July 2011

* Oral Statement Delivered by Ms. Pooja Patel on Behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM‐ASIA)