May 7, 2021

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writing, mostly, on contemporary issues of human rights, politics & social justice

Gwangju Uprising Inspires Asian Declarations on Rights to Justice, Peace & Culture

Originally published by The Korea Herald, click HERE to acccess the same.

While the people of Gwangju and South Korea were commemorating the 38th anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising, human rights activists and the activists of democratic movements in different countries of Asia gathered at the city of Gwangju to discuss the pertinent issues of human rights and democracy in the region. The activists and academicians commemorated the pro-democratic movement of 1980 with the announcement of three Asian declarations on a right to justice, a right to peace and a right to culture. They also call these declarations the “Gwangju Declarations.”

The main objective of bringing about the Gwangju Declarations was to identify the gaps and challenges in addressing human rights violations in Asia, and to suggest effective measures to resolve the problems. The declarations serve the supplements of the Asian Human Rights Charter: A People’s Charter that was launched in the city of Gwangju on May 17, 1998, as a joint effort of Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Gwangju-based May 18 Memorial Foundation.

Drawing the inspiration from the great struggles for freedom in Asia, including the struggles of the Gwangju citizens in 1980, the Asian charter was announced 20 years ago after a prolonged period of deliberations with human rights activists, academics, and other interested persons in the region. The advocates and activists believe the charter as a representation of the Gwangju spirit — the spirit of the uprising and the spirit of those who sacrificed their lives to ensure that the democracy would triumph and the militarism would be defeated.

In the course of implementing the Asian Human Rights Charter over the past 20 years, a number of organizations, including the AHRC and the May 18 Memorial Foundation have raised the issue of human rights to the governments and the peoples of the Asian countries in a sharpest possible manner and urged them to come together to recognize the problems and find ways for the effective resolution.

Unfortunately, the past 20 years did not witness much progress when it comes to human rights across Asia. The problems of extrajudicial killings that used to occur 20 years ago are still taking place in the Asian countries. This is notably evident for the fact that large scale of extrajudicial killings have taken place in the Philippines allegedly under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte. The incidence of extrajudicial killings, which are usually in the form of “enforced disappearances,” is common in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and many other countries.

In addition, torture, which is regarded as the worst form of human rights violation destroying human dignity, is still prevalent and widespread in the region. Studies on the practice of torture show the failure of justice mechanisms and defective criminal justice systems. The irony here is, the investigation for the torture related crimes is done by the security forces, who are often perpetrators of the torture. Thus, it becomes difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice.

In developed countries, the implementation process through the justice mechanisms comes into effect once a state becomes a signatory to a UN convention. However, this is unlike in case of developing countries, including those of Asia. The international covenants and conventions in the region have remained merely documents without their practical implementation.

The year — 2018 — marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on Dec. 10, 1948. The UN document has, for the first time, set out fundamental human rights to be universally protected. Although the UDHR has turned 70, the victims of human rights violations across Asia are constantly struggling to enjoy their right to justice. The national justice framework for the violations of human rights does not exist or effectively work for justice, remedy and reparation in the region. This is why the declaration on Right to Justice was chosen. Where there are no possibility of seeking justice effectively, there is no possibility of maintaining peace and right to culture in the region. For the similar reasons, the declarations on the Right to Peace and Right to Culture and Cultural Identity were made. These declarations identify the problem or the gap between the United Nations human rights conventions and their practical implementation in developing countries, particularly in the countries of Asia. These documents also suggest the effective measures to resolve the problems. The declarations are significant to provide a strong basis to generate the vital discussion on the actual implementation of rights in Asia.

As these declarations were launched to mark the 38th commemoration of the May 18 Uprising, thousands of the peoples, including the survivors and the victims’ families, thronging the May 18 National Cemetery in Gwangju on May 18, expressed their anger against the then military dictatorship in uproar and their struggles for justice. The people of Gwangju should not surrender and keep their struggles on for the democratization and social justice not just for South Korea but also in the region and beyond.