International rights defenders to visit Nepal

Inquirer Editorial Assistant
Bruce Van Voorhis, writer and editor for the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, and his group are coming Nepal to observe and raise awareness on human rights issues. Nepal is one of over 10 countries where normal standards of human rights do not exist.

At a time international HR defenders in Nepal are taking a "shift" from civil and political rights to social and economic rights, Van Voorhis has stressed that people could not participate in exercising their economic, social and cultural rights if their civil and political rights were not protected.

Van Voorhis said his team of 25 fulltime staff members along with interns and volunteers are trying to bring human rights awareness to countries such as Bangla-desh, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand. They primarily deal with issues of torture, disappearances, rule of law, hunger and caste-based discrimination.

According to Van Voorhis, any of the countries he deals with rule by law instead of establishing rules of law. This means that leaders in these countries make or fail to repeal laws that contradict a persons right to basic human rights.

Many times, he explained, the laws limiting a person's rights effect the poor or minorities. This is evident in culture where if a woman marries of her own desire rather than agreeing to an arranged marriage, often times the bride's family will scar her face with acid if they find her to show the world that she has disgraced her family.

Also, certain countries have laws in place which allow witness protection services only once a case has been filed. However, to file a case, police must have a statement from a named witness. This creates danger for the potential witness and deters many people from reporting injustices.

In some of the countries he works with, Van Voorhis said he encounters "disappearances." In Sri Lanka between 1988 and 1992, more than 120,000 people disappeared from their homes. These disappearances are ways of removing people who were planning to testify against a powerful group. They can also be a way to bring someone in to torture until a confession for a crime can be obtained.

Many times these people who have disappeared are imprisoned for months or even years or they are never seen again. This often leaves their families wondering if they are alive and fearing that if they are vocal about the disappearance they may be the next to vanish.

While organizations such as the United Nations exist, they have limited power to help people who are being denied their human rights, Van Voorhis said. The UN can issue sanctions against countries who disobey, but often times these sanctions are not enough to deter the mistreatment.

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