Human Rights Watch called on European and Asian leaders to tackle human rights issues head on at the upcoming ASEM III summit in South Korea. Representatives of 15 European countries and ten Asian countries will meet in Seoul on October 20-21 in the third summit since ASEM (the Asia-Europe Meeting) was established in 1996 as a forum for dialogue between governments of the two regions.

We've seen again and again how seemingly local human rights problems have escalated into regional and international crises when left to fester," said Lotte Leicht, Human Rights Watch Brussels director. "The leaders assembled in Seoul should make it a priority to explore joint action to end serious abuses that affect both regions."
Leicht said that European and Asian leaders should look for constructive, creative solutions to issues such as trafficking of women between the two regions, forced labor and other forms of exploitation of workers, continuing attacks on democracy activists and ethnic minorities in Burma, and the harsh response of Chinese authorities to those who question the Chinese Communist Party's political monopoly.

"Trade and economic cooperation would clearly be easier if European and Asian countries were also working closely together to find ways to effectively combat such violations," Leicht said. "The Asian economic crisis taught us that agreements to expand trade and investment are not enough to ensure progress. You also need transparency, accountability, and the rule of law."

Human Rights Watch called on ASEM III participants to:

take action to curb the trafficking of women into prostitution. Asian women continue to be trafficked to Europe in large numbers. Increasingly, women from eastern Europe are also being trafficked to Asia, with cases reported in Malaysia, Thailand, and China among other countries. Trafficking of women within Asia also demands urgent attention. Japan and Thailand in particular should be urged to take more effective action to end abuses suffered by thousands of Thai women trafficked to Japan each year and subjected to debt bondage, forced prostitution, and exploitation as illegal foreign workers. All ASEM members should agree to ratify the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The only ASEM member country that has done so is the Philippines; not a single European country has even signed the convention.

call on the Indonesian government to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1319, adopted on September 8, 2000, calling for "immediate and effective action" to resolve the ongoing crisis in West Timor. Most of the ASEM countries have contributed funds or personnel to the U.N. mission in East Timor (UNTAET) and have good relations with Indonesia, so there should be a strong common interest in reaching a solution. Participants should call for complete disarmament of former militia members in West Timor, punishment of those responsible for the terror in East Timor last year and for criminal acts committed in West Timor, and protection and assistance such that all refugees are able to choose free from coercion whether to return to East Timor or be resettled in Indonesia. Indonesia has taken some measures in recent weeks but must be encouraged to do more, including further legal action against militia leaders responsible for violent attacks. Participants could use the ASEM meeting to work out a plan ensuring full international participation in any process of registering refugees and in funding and monitoring safe return or relocation within Indonesia.

commit to ratifying key International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions guaranteeing freedom of association and banning forced labor, for those countries that have not already done so.

urge China to couple its commitments as a prospective member of the World Trade Organization with clear commitments to uphold international human rights standards. China should promptly ratify the U.N. human rights treaties it has signed, and accept a direct contact mission from the ILO to address government violations of Chinese workers' right of free association.

urge Burma to end its crackdown on pro-democracy advocates, including the de facto house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, and fully comply with the recommendations of the International Labor Organization to cease use of forced labor throughout the country. Participants should urge the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to reverse its decision not to address continuing rights violations in Burma.

call on the World Bank to step up its efforts to assist in fighting corruption by (1) publishing anti-corruption risk assessments as part of its annual report, and (2) by actively defending the free expression rights of journalists, officials, and all individuals who face harassment or arrest in their countries for exposing corruption.

strongly encourage ASEAN member states to enhance controls on weapons transfers by developing binding codes of conduct at the national or regional level, with a view toward eventually negotiating an international code of conduct on arms transfers. Human Rights Watch believes that, among other provisions, all such codes should at a minimum include the prohibition of arms transfers to governments and non-state actors that gravely or systematically violate international human rights or humanitarian law or do not fully participate in the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms. In addition, arms trade controls should extend controls to arms brokers and firms engaged in licenced production of armaments, as well encompass strict end-user requirements, including verification of documents and monitoring of weapons transfers.

oppose all attempts to restrict, regulate, or penalize nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for criticizing government practices. Participants should affirmatively recognize the important role played by independent NGOs and other civil society actors in promoting human rights, including the rights of women and ethnic minorities, and expressly acknowledge their key role as dialogue partners with international financial institutions, governments, and private businesses.
Human Rights Watch also called on ASEM participants to set up a working group on Internet access and censorship. The international rights monitor noted the rising importance of the Internet in Asia and the efforts of a number of governments, including China and Vietnam, to restrict use of the Internet by government critics and limit access to sites deemed to contain politically sensitive materials.

"The leaders who attend ASEM III should make a public commitment to working together to expand protection of human rights in Asia," said Leicht. "Their response to the new challenges posed by the Internet will be an important test case."