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Rights and Development

Advocacy for the Asian Human Rights Commission

Between 2007 and 2010 I worked in Hong Kong and various countries in Asia as advocacy programme manager for the AHRC and its sister organisation, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a regional NGO. This involved managing and writing advocacy strategies and content, liaising on casework with state officials and UN Special Procedures, and advocacy at high level fora, namely the UN Human Rights Council. Other activities, included field research on witness protection, violence against women and torture in various Asian countries and delivering workshops for human rights defenders. Below is a small selection of my work, taken from over a hundred articles and appeals written during my time there.  Reports and submissions: ASIA: Council urged to act to protect rights by protecting human rights defenders, a written statement to the Human Rights Council, Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Human ... Read the full article

‘You have to tolerate a little bit of torture’

In part one of a two-part interview Colombo based Attorney-at-law Ranjan Mendis explains how the Sri Lankan police continue to influence the outcome of torture trials taken against them, resulting in a mere handful of convictions since the domestic anti-torture law was passed sixteen years ago. "Torture by police is the order of the day" "As a regular practitioner in criminal courts I know the day-to-day. We meet a large number of people belonging to various walks of life; torture by the police is the order of the day – the order of the day. I want to emphasize that. In India torture is very common by the police as well as by the army, but in Sri Lanka torture by the army and other armed ... Read the full article

Man on a mission for women’s justice

 March 8, 2009, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong   Nasir Aslam Zahid has led the struggle for equal rights in Pakistan, where women remain in chains. But the former judge vows to fight on. For a free man, Nasir Aslam Zahid spends a lot of time in jail. “It does sometimes baffle callers,” says the Pakistani in clipped, wry tones, at the Asian Legal Resources Centre in Hong Kong. “Most of my phone calls these days are taken from prison.” The former chief justice runs LAO, a legal aid organization based out of Central Prison Karachi, which helps women and children incarcerated across his home province, Sindh. These days he is more worried about the renovation of toilets, administering of medicine and arranging of bail than passing judgments, but both roles  have exposed him to the glut of problems facing women in his ... Read the full article

Philippines Massacre: ‘They Made a Monster’

January 8, 2010, Guardian Weekly, UK Reprinted in the Sri Lanka Guardian For an uncut version of the interview, click here. (Link coming soon) Joseph Jubelag narrowly escaped the November massacre in Maguindanao, the Philippines, which claimed the lives of 57 people – 31 of them fellow journalists. They were allegedly murdered by a candidate for governor, part of a ruling family dynasty accused of war lordism. Jubelag expects the trial to bring a backlash against the private militias that are allowed to be kept by politicians for reasons of national security, as well as against President Arroyo for her past protection of the notorious clan. In the Philippines, local governments are allowed to ... Read the full article

Pakistan’s judiciary must confront suspected state agents on the issue of disappearances

Asian Human Rights Commission , 20 November 2009. It may have a recently-restored judiciary and an elected government that claims a strong interest in the rule of law, but Pakistan is seeing little progress in the hundreds of missing person’s cases still pending. Pakistanis continue to be regularly 'disappeared' after arrest. With the police force exposed as increasingly negligent and corrupt, the responsibility of identifying such cases and intervening has long fallen to the judiciary. Judges taking suo moto action have secured the rescue of numerous persons from illegal military detention in the recent past, and this is widely believed to have been a major motive behind the sacking of the Supreme Court judges in 2007 by then-President and Army Chief, Pervez Musharraf. Yet despite the restoration of the ... Read the full article

‘My son was murdered and the police did nothing’

September 8, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK Reprinted in Ethics in Action, Hong Kong, The Alaiwah archive on Human Rights, Pakistan, and by the Aboriginal News Service Journalist and activist Baseer Naweed encountered the opaque operations of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies when his son Faraz Ahmed was kidnapped, tortured and killed outside his office during a major campaign against corruption. Five years and various threats later, he works for the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, but is no closer to the truth. Faraz Naweed. Photograph: supplied by Baseer Naweed My whole life I have been an activist. I was a student leader, then joined trade unions, then became an investigative journalist. I wouldn't say that my son was following me; in fact he would tell me I was making compromises. He'd probably have called himself an anarchist back then. When he ... Read the full article

A Thankless Task

August 22, 2009, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong August 27, Sri Lanka Guardian, Sri Lanka, and and as ‘Thankless tasks: Rights defenders in Sri Lanka & Pakistan’ in Selected Articles on politics, human rights & the rule of law in South Asia, Article 2, Vol. 08 - No. 03, September 2009 (PDF) As a truth commission secretary MCM Iqbal helped gathered evidence on thousands of forced disappearances in Sri Lanka, only to see it disappear itself As President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks of ushering Sri Lankans into a new era of peace, a slight, bespectacled man in his sixties watches him from across an ocean with the weariness of a man who has tried and failed to call his bluff. MCM ... Read the full article

Civil Action

July 5, 2009, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Reprinted in human rights periodical Article 2, Hong Kong In Sri Lanka, victims of police torture are harassed, intimidated and even killed for speaking out against their tormentors. But a new witness protection bill may make walking the legal path a little safer. Caught on a rare tea break, Father Nandana Manatunga bats at the 'tsunami' flies that whirl around his head and ponders a Sri Lankan newpaper headline: "Witness protection bill boost to human rights". You get the feeling he'd like to be batting at something - or someone - else. Manatunga and his small team at the  Kandy Human Rights Office are preparing for a  biannual “victims’ get-together”, a mix of Buddhists and Christians, ethnic Sinhalese and Tamil, refugees from sexual abuse and police brutality – far from the conflict-ridden north ... Read the full article

Inside Burma

June 26, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK Reprinted in the Burma Digest, and Euro-Burma Fred Taino is a Burmese-speaking human rights defender who regularly visits Burma. Following a recent trip to Burma's biggest city, Yangon, he describes the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, how locals are fighting repression, human rights abuses and how tourists have deserted the country. Yangon looks different after Nargis. About 70% of the big trees collapsed so the view of the city has changed; much more is revealed. The tragedy is remarkable for the fact that many either lost their entire families in the cyclone, or they lost no one. I haven't come across anyone who just lost an uncle or grandfather because in the places that were hit nearly everyone was ... Read the full article

‘It was a whole traumatised society’

May 21, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK May 29, 2009, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong International criminal lawyer Carla Ferstman works for human rights organisation Redress. She talks about her experience of seeking justice for victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the rights of torture victims, and why she prefers not to talk about work at weddings. I was a criminal defense lawyer in Vancouver for two and a half years after graduation and I was looking for a little bit of a diversion, and a friend of mine told me they were looking for prosecutors to go work in Rwanda. I went out in ‘95 with the UN High Commission for Human Rights without any international experience. I’m from Montreal and they were looking for criminal ... Read the full article

Raising the Bar

May 18, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Jo Baker meets a lawyer who backed Pakistan’s rebel judiciary, and lost more than his freedom People have given up all kinds of things for their country, but Pakistani lawyer Muneer Malik’s forfeit was both brutal and peculiar. The more predictable sacrifices had already been made – his family were harassed, his colleagues beaten and his freedom temporarily taken away – but in solitary confinement in Pakistan’s notorious Attock Fort last November, Malik’s jailers chose to deprive him of one more thing: working kidneys. Who exactly was behind his poisoning, whether it was deliberate and whether, as some people believe, it was a murder attempt, has yet to come to light. Earlier that year the Pakistan courts had been in disarray. Cases for ‘disappeared’ persons were piling up, corruption scandals were ... Read the full article

Hope for Sri Lanka’s child victims

January 1, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK Torture has become a familiar feature of criminal investigations in Sri Lanka, where children as young as seven have experienced abuse under interrogation. At a small human rights unit in Kandy city, a Catholic priest has created a vital support system for the victims of police brutality. Father Nandana Manatunga relates the – often tragic – cases he has tried to help with. Our torture act passed 1994, but until about 2000 there was not a single case filed against anybody for torture in Sri Lanka. I opened my human rights office five years ago and since then we have cared ... Read the full article

Losing Ground

October 7, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 150,000 Cambodians are at risk of eviction from their homes as developers exploit a corrupt system which fails to protect property rights Losing Ground In June 1975 waves of black-clad guerilla fighters entered Phnom Penh and emptied it – by persuasion, coercion and violence – in just a few days. The Khmer Rouge north had beaten the south, and as a first step, more than two million bewildered people were banished from the city and sent to live in the countryside. Today, facing the prospect of its first skyscraper, a rash of Special Economic Zones and numerous foreign-backed developments, Cambodia is boasting of a new era. Yet some things haven’t changed. “See that tree?” asks Son Chhay, a bespectacled Cambodian minister, as ... Read the full article

Courage under Fire

July 7, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong A Catholic priest is helping to give hope to young human rights victims With a rakish side parting and a smile behind his eyes, it’s hard to imagine Father Nandana Manatunga at work, not because his job involves kids – for that he seems well suited – but because of the situations his wards come to him in. Dancing eyes seem at odds with the grim task of torture rehabilitation. The small island nation off the coast of India often hits the news for the long-waged and bloody war between its government and the Tamil Tiger separatists, but there are domestic issues that affect the populace even more deeply. Father Nandana runs the Kandy Human Rights Office, ... Read the full article