Insights and Analysis

Photo Blog: Critical Issue – Access to Justice & Human Rights

April 23, 2014

Asia Foundation 60th anniversary seriesWeak legal institutions and poorly functioning systems of justice pose challenges to citizens throughout Asia in resolving disputes, enforcing their rights, and accessing benefits to which they are legally entitled. This photo blog examines issues of access to justice and human rights through the lens of three countries: Cambodia, where economic land concessions are increasingly leading to instability and displacement of indigenous communities; Timor-Leste, where a nascent community policing initiative is increasing police accountability and providing higher levels of security to communities; and Thailand, where the Malay-Muslim majority population of the conflict-affected South call for improved access to justice security and human rights protection. Compiled by In Asia editor Alma Freeman.


Eighty percent of Cambodians depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and the majority of the indigenous people still live in forested areas. Since 1995, the government has granted economic land concessions for use of state land to private sector investors, totaling an estimated 2.1 million hectares. These economic land concessions often fail to follow legal requirements for obtaining the consent of occupants and providing compensation for the displaced. Photo/Michelle Chang


A 2012 report from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association showed that over 30,000 families across 127 local communities were forcibly evicted from their homes and lands, and 606 more communities were facing the possibility of being evicted in future. Human rights defenders, stepping in to protect these communities, often face violence themselves. Above, a coastal eviction in Sihanoukville. Photo/Karl Grobl


However, public acceptance of Cambodia’s inadequate protection of human rights may be turning. Late last year, the country experienced its first large-scale demonstrations made up of labor organizations, monks, farmers groups, opposition party members, and other activist groups. Protesters march in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Photo/Véronique Salze-Lozac’h


In a recent Asia Foundation survey in Timor-Leste, almost half of all respondents believe the country is going in the right direction and 72 percent believe security has improved. However, with a population of just over 1 million and the lowest GDP in Asia, new challenges have arisen which have remained hidden or ignored through years of resistance, state building, and brief but intense periods of crisis and instability after independence. Photo/Conor Ashleigh


As citizens of the newest independent nation in Asia, the people of Timor-Leste have high hopes for the Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL) as a vanguard of peace, stability, and justice. However, the PNTL is still a nascent institution with limited resources, institutional knowledge, experience, and capacity to adequately address local security needs. Photo/Conor Ashleigh


In recent years, a new Timor-Leste led community policing program is taking shape that emphasizes the placement of police officers at the suku (village) level who are responsible for problem solving and working alongside customary authorities such as elders and village chiefs to resolve disputes locally. Above, a police officer attends a community meeting to discuss local issues. Photo/Conor Ashleigh


While Thailand’s latest national political crisis unfolds in Bangkok, a deadly subnational conflict in its three southern border provinces continues, claiming over 6,000 lives since the resumption of the conflict in 2004. Photo/Chandler Vandergrift


Constraints on access to justice is one of the bitterest grievances of the region’s majority Malay-Muslim population, as reflected in limited legal representation, obstacles at multiple points in the criminal justice chain, lengthy pre-trial and arbitrary detention under the emergency powers laws, and lack of accountability on both sides of the conflict with respect to violence and abuse of power. Photo/Chandler Vandergrift


However, welcome signals of progress and fresh thinking are kindling hope for southern residents. Increasingly, forensic investigation is playing a significance role in an environment in which allegations of human rights abuse routinely arise and in which criminal prosecutions have failed for lack of credible evidence. Photo/Atist Pawakarakun


Productive collaboration among a core group of police, public prosecutors, forensic pathologists, and other stakeholders has enhanced professional capacity and division of labor in applying forensic science in crime scene investigation, chain of custody, and admission of forensic evidence in court cases. Photo/Arpaporn Winijkulchai





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