Human Rights Professionals Receive Advanced Training in Women's and Children's Rights

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Richard Magnus, Singaporean Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, gives a keynote address.More than 65 human rights and international law professionals from 18 countries participated in the Asian International Justice Initiative’s 2011 Summer Institute in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, which focused on issues related to the rights of women and children in the Asia Pacific region.

Held over a two-week period in July, the institute began with seven days of course work in Singapore, and continued with four days of optional field experience in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Mr. Richard Magnus, Singaporean Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, gave the opening keynote address.

“Civilian women and children are often the most vulnerable victims of violence and exploitation in times of conflict and humanitarian crises,” said David Cohen, director of the Asian International Justice Initiative, or AIJI – a collaboration between the East-West Center and the University of California-Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center. “We are especially gratified that our Summer Institute this year was able to provide critical training in contemporary policies and practices to promote and protect the rights of women and children.” 

Institute participants introduce themselves. Photo: NUSThe course was taught from an interdisciplinary perspective, encompassing both rapidly evolving legal norms as well as contemporary practice in the field on critical issues such as trafficking. Participants, who included professionals working across a broad range of related fields, were encouraged to take a holistic perspective, considering political, historical and social factors that can both precipitate conflicts and lead to their successful resolution. 

The Institute was presented by AIJI in partnership with the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore, the Singapore Management University School of Law, the International Institute for Child Rights and Development, and the Human Rights Resource Centre for ASEAN. 

About the Institute Topic
Civilian women and children are often the most vulnerable victims of violence during conflicts, and are far more likely than male combatants to lose access to adequate health care, food, and water. Moreover, such problems often persist beyond the end of the conflict, as inadequate protection frameworks leave women and children vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers and migrant labor markets. 

Participants tour Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, guided by one of the few survivors of the Khmer Rouge torture center.The ASEAN Commission for Women and Children (ACWC) and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), both established in 2009, have devoted unprecedented emphasis on the protection of women and children, and promotion of their rights, within Southeast Asia. In fact, more than half of the participants in this ypresentatives to the ACWC from all over the region.

The course began with a general introduction to the human rights of women and children in armed conflict as well as in peacetime, then focused in on such peacetime issues as human trafficking and response to humanitarian crises. Discussion was led by distinguished regional experts such as Prof. Yanghee Lee and Dr. Saisuree Chutikul. 

The focus then turned to some of the challenges involved in efforts to protect women and children during armed conflict, including sessions covering child soldiers, sexual violence as a tool and consequence of war, and the struggles of internally displaced populations and refugees.

The final day of course work in Singapore, led by Amb. Ong Keng Yong of Singapore and former Attorney Generear’s Summer Institute were real of Indonesia Marzuki Darusman, focused on policy issues, particularly the role of regional commissions such as the ACWC and AICHR in helping to protect the rights of women and children throughout the region.

The twenty participants who joined the optional field trip to Phnom Penh had the opportunity to visit Cambodian governmental bodies, UN offices, and non-governmental organizations working on child rights and women's rights issues in Cambodia. The trip also included a tour of the Tuol Sleng genocide museum guided by Mr. Chum Mey, one of three remaining survivors of torture and incarceration in the former Khmer Rouge detention center.

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The Asian International Justice Initiative – a collaboration between the East-West Center and the University of California-Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center – aims to provide on-the-ground support for rule-of-law and human-rights initiatives in Asia, in both the domestic and international legal context, primarily by partnering with courts and other institutions in the justice sector to assist them in achieving their goals in these areas.