Monday, July 10, 2006

Democracy and human Rights in Asia

Thursday, June 8, 2006 10:30am to 12:30pm

Speakers: Paul Scott (ARDA)
Richard Deck (ARDA)
Cynthia Bunton (International Republican Institute)
T Kumar (Amnesty International)
Blair King (National Democratic Institute)
CHRC staff

Mr. Richard Deck of the ARDA began the panel discussion with a brief history of the Alliance for Reform and Democracy or ARDA. The concept for the creation of such an organization came about in Cambodia in August 2005. ARDA, however, was finally created in Thailand in October. ARDA’s mission according to Mr. Deck is to offer Asian countries with a network to exchange information, gather support during times of crisis, etc. ARDA was created to serve as an ally of Asian democrats, monitor political developments, promote democracy and freedom throughout Asia.
Mr. Deck concluded his speech by talking briefly about some of ARDA’s interventions in Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Mr. Paul Scott, the project director of the Asia Democracy Index spoke next. The Asia Democracy Index (ADI) report measure and evaluates democracy, good governance and status of human rights in Asian countries. The special feature about this report is that Asians themselves ranked their governments. Mr. Scott then proceeded to talk briefly about the situation in all the 16 countries that participated in the ADI report. He also said that certain Asian countries like India and China could not be surveyed due to budgetary reasons. The survey which relied completely on local NGO’s included questions on civil rights, elections, governance and corruption and the role of the media. Japan ranked highest in the ADI. Mr. Scott also pointed out interesting facts that came to light because of this survey. For instance, in Pakistan, even though the government is corrupt and inefficient there is civil and political space for criticism. The media is extremely active and vigilant. He went on to talk about other countries like Myanmar, Indonesia.
Cynthia Bunton of the International Republican Institute stressed on her organizations support to the ARDA. She also said that her organization agreed with ARDA’s agenda to bring democracy to certain countries in Asia. She also dismissed the ‘empty rhetoric’ of ‘Asian values’ which according to her was simply an excuse for corrupt governments to exploit their citizens by not bringing in democracy.
Mr. T Kumar from Amnesty international spoke of the link between democracy and human rights. Human rights, according to him, sets the right atmosphere for democracy to function. He also said that Asia was a large and complex region especially with regard to democracy. Even in countries which are democratic there are problems. India, for instance. Mr. Kumar also blamed certain western governments for harming the spread of democracy in this region because of their vested interests.
Mr. Blair King concluded the panel discussion by focusing on US foreign policy in the region. He said that the diverse nature of the region makes it hard for the US to develop a coherent foreign policy. He also said that regional organizations like ASEAN, etc should play a larger role in bringing democracy to the region. US should support these organizations in order for them to achieve their goals.

by Tahseen Alam

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