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ASIA: Invest to rebuild judicial independence

An Oral Statement to the 32nd Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council from the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)

ASIA: Invest to rebuild judicial independence

Mr. President.

Three human rights defenders in Thailand, Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Ms. Anchana Heemmina, and Mr. Somchai Homlaor, are facing criminal defamation charges today. These three are accused of having published a report on custodial torture and ill-treatment in Thailand. The report documents 54 cases. The Army has initiated proceedings, arguing that the report is defamatory to the Thai Army.

Unfortunately, no Thailand court can independently decide the case. Thai Lawyers will also be unable to use their professional freedom to defend the rights activists.

Similar conditions exist in Bangladesh, where the entire justice machinery is under the absolute control of the Prime Minister's Office. Recently, the incumbent Chief Justice even pleaded with lawyers to take to the streets to protect the Judiciary from government control. Conditions in Bangladesh are also similar to that in China, where the courts are notorious for being unable to uphold justice for ordinary people.

Mr. President, the Asian Legal Resource Centre wishes to emphasise that justice institutions lack independence not only in countries where the judiciary and the profession of lawyers are under government control.

Independence is also closely linked to support the justice delivery framework receives from the states; this includes adequate resource allocation.

Mr. President, what meaningful purpose could justice institutions serve, if police refuse to register a crime; if they have no professional ability to undertake modern crime investigation; and if the courts are unable to complete trials for decades? Yet, these are an undeniable feature in most Asian states, where governments have smothered life out of the justice process.

Mere demands for independence of institutions, therefore, will not change the denial of justice in Asia.

Asian states have invested the least in developing their justice architecture. Justice delivery is impossible in Asia without immediately addressing the need for more judges, more investment in modern policing, and just laws.

Thank you, Mr. President.


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