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East Asian Regional Forum Unites Activists for Solidarity

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Human rights defenders across East Asia gathered in Gwangju, South Korea on 15-18 May 2007 for the 1st East Asian Human Rights Defender Forum and Gwangju International Peace Forum. The forums brought together more than 150 activists – jointly organised by the May 18 Memorial Foundation. The P4R Ratification Campaign, to hold governments accountable for their human rights abuses, was launched at the forum as well.
Human Rights Defenders’ Struggle to Increase the Rule of Law and End Impunity – Strengthened at the EAHRDF

“Those that attended the East Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum, who are struggling for freedom and democracy in their own countries, were inspired by how South Korea commemorates and preserves the memories of their democratic struggle,” said Ms. Emerlynne Gil, the Program Officer of the Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).

The 1st East Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum (EAHRDF)/ Gwangju International Peace Forum (GIPF)  was held in Gwangju, South Korea from 15 to 18 May 2007 to strengthen the democracy and peace movement in the region. It brought together almost 150 social activists and human rights defenders from all over Asia. The program was jointly organised by FORUM-ASIA and the May 18 Memorial Foundation, a Korea-based organisation working to keep the democratic uprising of Gwangju in May 1980 in public consciousness. 

Apart from the thematic discussions on peace and human rights, the forum also served as a venue for FORUM-ASIA members from Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia to discuss the issues and challenges facing them. More than 30 delegates representing 16 of FORUM-ASIA’s member organisations were present at the forum.

While in South Korea, FORUM-ASIA delegates also had the chance to meet with two new members in Korea —  the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) and Korea House for International Solidarity (KHIS) – and met with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) and Korea Democracy Foundation (KDF), to discuss human rights and democracy in South Korea.

A paper on impunity and the rule of law was presented during the forum wherein a theoretical framework using the human rights approach was presented as a tool to establish the rule of law and combat impunity in transitional justice societies. It was during this session that participants tackled the challenge of formulating a balance of truth, justice, reconciliation, and peace in their own countries.  Also during the forum, cases of impunity at the international and domestic levels – such as Comfort Women in Asia, Indonesia and Timor Leste Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) and Commission of Truth, Reception, and Reconciliation (CAVR), and Cambodia Khmer Rouge Trial  — were shared among the delegates.

The forum was also an opportunity for the regional secretariat to launch its P4R Ratification Campaign that aims to make international human rights standards relevant to the people on the ground. The campaign aims to popularise international human rights standards in international treaties, convince governments to ratify and remove reservations on these treaties, encourage regular reporting on human rights conditions in each country, and make remedies under these treaties for victims of human rights violations. The delegates also briefly discussed the needs of the members, vital for the secretariat to draft the three year action-plan of FORUM-ASIA.

All FORUM-ASIA delegates expressed that the recommendations made from the previous sub-regional forums, namely the Northeast Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum and Southeast Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum, and 2nd Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum (AHRDF), still serve as practical recommendations to address the continuous and concrete human rights challenges in the region.

In relation to the conclusion of the East Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum and Gwangju International Peace Forum (GIPF), the delegates of the forum have set up a network for direct action on gross human rights violations and impunity, to support victims of democratic struggles or human rights violations, and building the capacity of young human rights defenders and retain the struggle for democracy for new generations. The network, which ADHOC and FORUM-ASIA will represent as national and regional focal points respectively, will be called the “People’s Democracy Action Network in Asia (PDAN)”.