PapersEngagement of Civil Society in APEC Process
Human Rights as an Agenda for APEC
South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung has expressed his economic and social policies as an economic development with democratic reforms. This sums up the basis for engagement of civil society in the process of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In the past, several Asian countries that are partners in the APEC process neglected democratic reforms as an essential component in their economic development. The results have been mass civil society protests that have forced the crucial issue of re-defining the very basis of the economic policies and ideologies pursued in those countries.
The basic policy framework for divorcing civil society from the process of economic development is to separate economic development from social policy. The basis for engagement of civil society is to end this separation and to integrate social development into all plans for economic development.
The separation of social development from the economic process is not new. The history of industrial nations shows that in the early part of industrialisation there was severe neglect of social development and as a result there were constant civil society unrest and agitation. It became an imperative to integrate the two aspects, and it was in that way that civil society was engaged in the development of institutions, which established a permanent link between the economic and social aspects of development.
These institutions are known as the democratic institutions and form the bedrock of the developed industrial societies. In these societies any attempt to divorce the democratic process for the purpose of achieving rapid progress will be met with massive antagonism from civil society and may even lead to civil wars.
The twentieth century saw its own version of the separation between the economic and social aspects of development. One such experience was the Soviet style of economic model that justified such separation on the basis of the need to compete with the developed industrial countries. The Soviet model was followed in many countries in Asia. The collapse of systems based on this model was a result of civil society movements that rallied under the banner of democracy.
The second experiment in this direction came under the ideology that became known as "Asian values." In essence, it meant that Asians people were willing to accept hardships and delay democratic reforms in order to achieve quick industrialisation. This ideology was followed in many countries and led even to a propaganda war against the universality of human rights. Those countries that promote the "Asian values" ideology also are facing severe civil society protests at the moment.
The countries involved in APEC process consist of two categories: those which have achieved high degree of democracy and those that lack even the basic infrastructure needed for democracy. Some countries that initially have such an infrastructure have neglected democracy in favour of the rule under national security laws. Sometimes even some democratic countries encourage the less democratic countries to remain, as they are in order to gain advantages from these "newly industrialised nations." However, these attempts have been frustrated by civil society movements and upheavals in these "newly industrialised nations."
In order to engage civil society in the APEC process, it is necessary to address this dichotomy which exists in the basic philosophy of APEC itself. Without addressing such substantial issues of principle on which part activities of the APEC process have taken place it will not be possible to convince the civil society movements to be engaged in this process.
The Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development can be a useful starting point in reconciling these divergent policies involved in the APEC process. The ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS CHARTER - A People’s Charter, produced through the collaboration of hundreds of non-governmental organisations in Asia, can be a useful tool for this purpose.
Following parts from the ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS CHARTER may be a useful guideline to study the human rights aspects of such engagement.
3.1 We endorse all the rights that are contained in international instruments. It is unnecessary to restate them here. We believe that these rights need to be seen in a holistic manner and that individual rights are best pursued through a broader conceptualization which forms the basis of the following section.
THE RIGHT TO LIFE
- Foremost among rights is the right to life, from which flow other rights and freedoms. The right to life is not confined to mere physical or animal existence but includes the right to every limb or faculty through which life is enjoyed. It signifies the right to live with basic human dignity, the right to livelihood, the right to a habitat or home, the right to education and the right to a clean and healthy environment for without these there can be no real and effective exercise or enjoyment of the right to life. The state must also take all possible measures to prevent infant mortality, eliminate malnutrition and epidemics, and increase life expectancy through a clean and healthy environment and adequate preventative as well as curative medical facilities. It must make primary education free and compulsory.
- Yet in many parts of Asia, wars, ethnic conflicts, cultural and religious oppression, corruption of politics, environmental pollution, disappearances, torture, state or private terrorism, violence against women, and other acts of mass violence continue to be a scourge to humanity resulting in the loss of thousands of innocent human lives.
- To ensure the right to life, propagation of war or ethnic conflict or incitement to hatred and violence in all spheres of individual or societal or national or international life should be prohibited.
- The state has the responsibility to thoroughly investigate cases of torture, disappearances and custodial deaths, rapes and sexual abuses and to bring culprits to justice.
- There must be no arbitrary deprivation of life. States should take measures not only to prevent and mete out punish for the deprivation of life by criminal acts and terrorist acts but also prevent arbitrary disappearances and killings by their own security forces. The law must strictly control and limit the circumstances in which a person may be deprived of his or her life by state authorities or officials.
- All states must abolish the death penalty. Where it exists, it may be imposed only rarely for the most serious crimes. Before a person can be deprived of life by the imposition of the death penalty, he or she must be ensured a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal with full opportunity of legal representation of his or her choice, adequate time for preparation of defence, presumption of innocence and the right to review by a higher tribunal. Execution should never be carried out in public or otherwise exhibited in public.
THE RIGHT TO PEACE
- All persons have the right to live in peace so that they can fully develop all their capacities, physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual, without being the target of any kind of violence. The peoples of Asia have suffered great hardships and tragedies due to wars and civil conflicts which have caused many deaths, mutilation of bodies, external or internal displacement of persons, break up of families, and in general the denial of any prospects of a civilized or peaceful existence. Both the state and civil society have in many countries become heavily militarized in which all scores are settled by force and citizens have no protection against the intimidation and terror of state or private armies.
- The duty of the state to maintain law and order should be conducted under strict restraint on the use of force in accordance with standards established by the international community, including humanitarian law. Every individual and group is entitled to protection against all forms of state violence, including violence perpetrated by its police and military forces.
- The right to live in peace requires that political, economic or social activity of the state, the corporate sector and the civil society should respect the security of all peoples, especially of vulnerable groups. People must be ensured security in relation to the natural environment they live in, the political, economic and social conditions which permit them to satisfy their needs and aspirations without recourse to oppression, exploitation, violence, and without detracting from all that is of value in their society.
- In fighting fascist invasion, colonialism, and neo-colonialism, Asian states played a crucial role in creating conditions for their peoples to live in peace. In this fight, they had justifiably stressed the importance of national integrity and non-intervention by hegemonic powers. However, the demands of national integrity or protection against the threats of foreign domination cannot now be used as a pretext for refusing to the people their right to personal security and peaceful existence any more than the suppression of people's rights can be justified as an excuse to attract foreign investments. Neither can they justify any refusal to inform the international community about the individual security of its people. The right of persons to live in peace can be guaranteed only if the states are accountable to the international community.
- The international community of states has been deeply implicated in wars and civil conflicts in Asia. Foreign states have used Asian groups as surrogates to wage wars and have armed groups and governments engaged in internal conflicts. They have made huge profits out of the sale of armaments. The enormous expenditures on arms have diverted public revenues from programmes for the development of the country or the well-being of the people. Military bases and other establishments (often of foreign powers) have threatened the social and physical security of the people who live in their vicinity.
THE RIGHT TO DEMOCRACY
- Colonialism and other modern developments significantly changed the nature of Asian political societies. The traditional systems of accountability and public participation in affairs of state as well as the relationship of citizens to the government were altered fundamentally. Citizens became subjects, while the government became more pervasive and powerful. Colonial laws and authoritarian habits and style of administration persisted after independence. The state has become the source of corruption and the oppression of the people. The democratization and humanization of the state is a pre-condition for the respect for and the protection of rights.
- The state, which claims to have the primary responsibility for the development and well-being of the people, should be humane, open and accountable. The corollary of the respect for human rights is a tolerant and pluralistic system, in which people are free to express their views and to seek to persuade others and in which the rights of minorities are respected. People must participate in public affairs, through the electoral and other decision-making and implementing processes, free from racial, religious or gender discriminations."
If civil society is to be engaged in the APEC process it will require considerable effort to combine economic reforms with social reforms. The protection and promotion of human rights is an essential aspect of such a process. The negation of rule by the draconian national (internal) security laws, the promotion of democratic reforms to enabling the functioning of democratic institutions and the making of participation in international forums possible are a few of the basic requirements of such an engagement.
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Published on: 2002-10-23 (973 reads)[ Go Back ]