The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 81 member organizations from 21 Asian countries that work collaboratively to promote and protect human rights in Asia and beyond. FORUM-ASIA brings together Asian human rights organizations and defenders in order to provide emergency support, capacity-building, and advocacy at the national, regional and international levels.
Founded in December 1991 during a regional consultation in the Philippines, FORUM-ASIA was established to address the importance of having a regional network “set up by Asians for Asians.” The interconnected concerns of its 19 founding members in the fields of human rights and development are reconciled in its mandate by focusing on socio-economic development, including economic inequality, alongside its human rights work. In 1992, FORUM-ASIA established its regional secretariat in Bangkok, Thailand. In 2006, to increase Asian presence and accountability at the UN, it opened its office in Geneva. FORUM-ASIA further instituted regional offices in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2010 and in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2015 to encourage work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), respectively.
Additionally, FORUM-ASIA gained consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC Status) in 2004, and a consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in 2017. The Secretariat is composed of an international team of professionals, whose work is structured through programs that reflect the strategies and priorities of FORUM-ASIA. Some of these programs are listed below, and more can be discovered here.
Human Rights Defenders Program
FORUM-ASIA’s Human Rights Defenders Program focuses on protection, advocacy, and capacity-building for human rights defenders (HRDs) and women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Asia and elsewhere. It was developed as a concrete follow-up to a December 2001 FORUM-ASIA consultation with the former United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani.
The HRD Protection plan provides timely and efficient assistance to HRDs at risk in Asia through temporary relocation, trial observation, and other types of urgent assistance. FORUM-ASIA has also initiated an online portal, Asian HRDs Portal, which catalogs cases of human rights violations across Asia. This has the aim of increasing public awareness of HRDs in Asia and, through its narrative reports, informing the public of the gravity of the challenges faced by HRDs. Additionally, the Portal provides online campaign tools, a case database, and resource materials for the general public, as well as for human rights defenders themselves. It allows one to submit an incident through their "Submit a Case" page. In addition to the reports, it includes translations of the 1999 UN Declaration on HRDs in local languages, such as Hindi, Bangla, Malaysian, and Sinhalese.
United Nations Advocacy Program
Through its UN Advocacy Program, FORUM-ASIA provides a platform for Asian perspectives to be heard in global arenas at the UN. The interventions of FORUM-ASIA during the Regular Sessions of the UN Human Rights Council are accessible for 2017, 2018, and 2019.
You can watch Rosanna Ocampo, FORUM-ASIA UN Advocacy Programme Senior Officer, deliver an oral statement during the 42nd Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council on 25 September 2019 here.
National Human Rights Institutions Advocacy Program
FORUM-ASIA’s advocacy program on National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) mainly operates via the Secretariat for the Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI), which was established in December 2006. ANNI is a network of 33 non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders from 21 Asian countries or territories working on issues relating to NHRIs. It aims to strengthen the work and functioning of Asian NHRIs, and advocate for their improved compliance with international standards and establishment in places where none exist yet.
South Asia Program
The South Asia program supports the work of member organizations at the national level in South Asia, working via regional strategies that enhance inter-program synergy, cooperation, and coordination within the Secretariat for effective advocacy, campaigning, and networking. One of its recent publications focuses on the complex history of enclave dwellers on both sides of the India-Bangladesh border. The full report can be found here.
East Asia and ASEAN Program
The East Asia and ASEAN Program, in its turn, supports the work of FORUM-ASIA member organizations in East Asia. In addition, it focuses on enhancing the independence and effectiveness of the ASEAN human rights mechanisms by coordinating workshops, trainings, national and regional consultations and various other forms of information sharing between civil society organizations and representatives of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Right of Women and Children (ACWC).
FORUM-ASIA often plays the role of connecter and initiator in the region, identifying key concerns related to human rights issues and organizing consultations between concerned actors and relevant stakeholders. On various occasions this has resulted in the creation of new initiatives that have grown into independent organizations, such as the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma) in 1996 and the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) in 1997.
In 2016, for the 25th anniversary of its founding, FORUM-ASIA published a comprehensive publication, “Our Struggle for Human Rights – 25 Years of FORUM-ASIA,” which visualizes the history of their work through a unique website. Apart from a written historical timeline of the network, the website also features video testimonials by members and collaborators and a history of human rights work in Asia.
As part of its advocacy work, FORUM-ASIA actively issues statements decrying human rights violations in Asia, such as violations in Kashmir, Hong Kong, and Myanmar. It also has extremely active public engagement through various events, and one can subscribe to their newsletter and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Whenever ARC connects with Asian artists and human rights defenders at risk, FORUM-ASIA is one of the first resources we turn to for assistance.
By Revantika Gupta, March 2020. Revantika recently completed her Masters in Arts Politics from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.