The fourth International Course on Human Rights and Asia organized and hosted by Seoul National University Human Rights Center served as an invaluable platform for participants to strengthen their knowledge about human rights issues collectively in the context of Asia.
The course brought 37 participants from 28 countries together: Afghanistan, Australia, Cambodia, China, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the United States, Myanmar, Nepal, Palestine, the Philippines, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam.
The participants were of diverse professional backgrounds, consisting of activists, academics, international organization workers, researchers, civil servants, and lawyers. The diversity in culture and expertise greatly enhanced the learning process of the course as participants exchanged their experience and thoughts on human rights challenges in diverse perspectives.
The key feature of the course was its interdisciplinary approach in analyzing and learning about human rights. Such approach was beneficial in view of the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of human rights issues globally. It is important for human rights advocates to have a holistic view on various thematic issues.
For this reason, the course syllabus consisted of a wide range of subjects such as human rights mechanisms, human rights theory, freedom of expression, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, forced disappearance, business and human rights, and economic and social rights. The 2017 course also included contemporary topics such as migrants and refugee issues and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in order to remain abreast of emerging human rights issues.
Apart from the lectures, the participants were able to share their experience with extensive knowledge and expertise in relevant subjects through group discussion sessions. The discussions were followed by group presentation touching upon human rights violation issues in the context of UN Human Rights Mechanisms. The participants divided into five groups gave presentations on the following issues: Land Grabbing Issue in Indonesia, the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the Climate Change and the Right to Housing, Bloggers in Asia and Their Rights to Freedom Of Opinion and Expression and last but not least, Killings of Gay Activists in Bangladesh
Learning from South Korea’s Experience
Participants were also able to gain firsthand learning via a series of field visits to South Korean institutions and organizations related to human rights. The participants visited the Constitutional Court of Korea and were able to learn about the court processes and rulings directly from a Constitutional Court researcher. The Constitutional Court received particularly high attention from the participants due to the then ongoing ruling of the former president Park Geun Hye’s impeachment motion. Afterwards, they had a chance to visit the National Human Rights Commission of Korea to learn about the role of the commission and the process of reporting human rights violation cases.
Later that afternoon, the participants divided into subgroups had a chance to visit six human organizations based on their interest. The six organizations were as follows: Korean Lawyers for Public Interest and Human Rights, Migrants Workers Trade Union (MTU), PSPD (People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy), Human Rights Foundation SARAM, Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center (KSCRC), and NANCEN (Center for Refugee’s Rights). It was a great opportunity for the participants to directly engage with grassroots practitioners and learn from them about the human rights challenges faced by different communities in South Korea. The participants were able to gain useful insights on advocacy strategies from the organizations, which would enhance the participants’ work back home.
Research and Advocacy Plans
The course programme included a group assignment and presentation, which they had to present to the participants for peer-reviews. In addition, it included coming up with advocacy plans based on their interest. During the course, each participant was able to consult with the director of the course, Dr. Joo-Young Lee about her or his research or advocacy plan. There were various issues touched upon by the participants such as refugees, business and human rights, development, SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity), democracy, media, youth, environment, forced disappearance, legal system, human rights mechanism, human rights education, gender and social rights.
These assignments reflected the course’s intent for the participants to apply the lessons learnt to real life scenarios and their work. Participants were challenged not only to brainstorm on advocacy and research strategies, but also to take into considerations the various real-life restrictions and socio-political factors in the case studies. The multitude of feedback received from fellow participants was essential in enhancing ideas and improving analytical skills.
Feedback from the participants
According to the course evaluation survey, 95% of the participants responded they are very satisfied with the overall course programme. Among the positively evaluated lectures, the lecture on Business and Human Rights provided by Professor Surya Deva was the most acclaimed one for challenging the participants with different perspectives to comprehend human rights issues and facilitating discussions.
Words from the participants
It has been a great experience for me, very diverse, knowledgeable, lectures were highly beneficial and participants were quite inspirational. For sure, I would like to advocate supporting the course through various sources. I would like to make a special suggestion for Afghanistan to be particularly given consideration for such educational opportunity.
Basir Ahmad Jalali (Afghanistan)
The course provided great theoretical background with opportunity to analyze the situation. All the lecturers are of a very high importance in Asia and professionalism, especially members of Committee, working groups and independent experts. Highly recommend to all HR lawyers and activists of Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia
Aliia Umarbaeva (Kyrgyzstan)
I absolutely loved it. I had wonderful two weeks and gained a completely new understanding of the issues we discussed and learned so much from my fellow participants. In addition, I loved the topics we discussed and some of the lectures were best courses I ever attended.
Jasmin Tarakei (Germany)
I am very happy about the whole course and to be chosen as one of the participants. The experience has been strongly positive: the lectures were excellent, and I was able to learn so much by having discussions with other participants. It was particularly inspiring to get to hear about the situation of the activists and their work. I will definitely recommend this course to my colleagues in the Philippines.