It is frustrating to know that an ordinary citizen wouldn’t care much about his right to suffrage and/or peaceful assembly if his right to a descent house or better yet, adequate food is not met. He would rather look for something to eat instead of going to the streets and scream out his frustration to the government for not doing anything to address the food crisis.
But what’s more frustrating and upsetting to know and see is the paradox of the situation of human rights defenders in the Philippines and in other parts of Southeast Asia as well. The frontliners of human rights advocacy, who fight for the rights of the marginalized and vulnerable, are the ones who experiences human rights violations, first hand.
From being extra-legally killed or being victims of politically motivated killings, being arrested without cause, to being tortured and harassed, they indeed have one foot in the grave. They risk their lives for their cause and in service of their fellow citizens even to complete strangers whose rights are violated.
So what has been done to address this issue? Well in 1999, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. It specifically states that each state has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights.
ASEAN countries, as members of the UN, should be guided by this declaration and ensure that the rights of human rights advocates are not set aside but are protected and promoted.