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Regional Consultation on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Model Law Highlights Challenges

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The “Regional Consultation on Model National Law on the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Asia” organised by FORUM-ASIA and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) was held on 29-30 April 2014. The event brought together over 20 HRDs from across the region as well as regional and international observers to put forward solutions to the challenges Asian HRDs face in their work, in particular, a framework legislation on HRD protection in Asia.

The Consultation addressed the fact that 16 years after the adoption of the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, its principles still have not been meaningfully acted upon by Asian states. Some states are moving in the other direction applying repressive legislations and misusing them against HRDs. The lack of will from Asian states to address such issues has created a hostile environment, restricted democratic spaces for engagement and meaningful participation and deprived HRDs of the protections laid out in the Declaration. HRDs across the region continue to face severe repression due to states’ failure to fulfill their obligations consistent with international human rights norms and standards.

The sense of the increasingly systematic state repression of HRDs and the enormity of the task ahead were reconfirmed by the participants: the hostility of the environment and the immediacy of the dangers that Asian HRDs face are such that it is difficult for some to imagine structural reform. Nevertheless, in concretely identifying the root causes of abuses, developing ideas on how to address them, and sharing national experiences – particularly best practices- comfort was found in a collective sense of progress and feasibility, and an impetus to move forward. In this regard, the Consultation succeeded in laying the groundwork for a more systematic and long term engagement on HRD protection mechanisms.