(New York) - Asian regional security talks taking place in Cambodia this week may encourage human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism, Human Rights Watch warned today in a letter to participating governments.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF) complements other ASEAN dialogues with discussions on regional security issues and transnational problems such as counter-terrorism. ARF comprises the members of ASEAN plus their dialogue partners Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the United States.
The regional security forum has pledged support to the international campaign against terrorism, but has been conspicuously silent on human rights issues. Other comparable regional organizations, such as the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization of Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe, have built human rights safeguards into their counter-terrorist initiatives.
"ASEAN is right to focus on the threat of terrorism, but should commit to building in protections for due process and human rights," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "The campaign against terror must not be a green light for indefinite detention without trial or torture."
Human Rights Watch said that many ARF members were abusing human rights on the pretext of fighting terrorism, or had extended new security assistance and cooperation to abusive governments in the region:
- The Australian government has used the rhetoric of counter-terrorism to justify its hardline policies on refugee and asylum issues and has sought extended powers of detention for its security agency.
- China has stepped up its campaign against Uighur separatists in Xinjiang province by invoking the war on terror, blurring the distinction between peaceful activists and those with genuine connections to international terrorist organizations.
- The Indian government enacted the new Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which closely resembles a discredited, earlier security law that led to tens of thousands of politically motivated detentions, torture, and other human rights violations against perceived political opponents in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
- Many of the measures adopted by the U.S. government after the September 11 attacks have violated fundamental provisions of international human rights and humanitarian law.
- Following the Bali bomb attack in October 2002, the Indonesian government has passed new anti-terrorist laws that seriously curb fundamental rights, and has used the rhetoric of counter-terrorism to justify crackdowns on opponents in Aceh and Papua.
- Russia has continued to justify its actions in Chechnya as a tightly focused counter-terrorism operation, despite the fact that it has produced vast civilian casualties, including extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances.
- Malaysia and Singapore have used their long-standing Internal Security Acts to detain terrorism suspects without trial and chill free expression and public criticism.
- In many European Union member states, new laws, policies, and practices have undermined fundamental human rights protections, including the right to seek asylum and prohibitions against arbitrary detention and torture.
"The best way to prevent terrorism is to bolster human rights protections and to build civil society institutions," Adams said. "Indeed, repression breeds terrorism by channeling political grievances into extremist violence."
Human Rights Watch called on the ASEAN Regional Forum to ensure counter-terrorist measures were consistent with international human rights standards, and to include human rights experts in its working groups on this issue. ARF members should also invite the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and other independent experts to monitor and analyze the human rights impact of security laws and policies in the region.