“These are very difficult times for human rights and human rights defenders,” says Patrick Earle, Executive Director of the Diplomacy Training Program (DTP), an independent non-profit organisation that uses education and training to advance human rights in the Asia Pacific.
Promoting human dignity, protecting human rights
Earle lists nationalism, racism, religious intolerance and economic insecurity as some of the forces that are undermining human rights in 2020.
“There is tightening space for civil society, more authoritarian and populist governments and more risks for the courageous individuals and organisations that call out corruption, protect the environment, defend democracy, criticise government policies and highlight the rights of the marginalised and exploited,” Earle says.
Established in 1989 by José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Laureate and former President of Timor Leste, and Emeritus Professor Garth Nettheim, the Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) has provided training to more than 3000 community advocates and human rights defenders.
The impacts of DTP’s work are many. In 2019 the program received the 2019 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award for its 30 years of service in building human rights knowledge, skills and networks, with alumni in more than 50 countries.
“Our alumni are now Human Rights Commissioners in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, and other alumni have received awards for their work for human rights and democracy, to end trafficking in women and children, to stop torture,” Earle explains.
“DTP alumni have established new networks on business and human rights in the Pacific and in PNG and we have broken new ground in linking advocates in the Middle-East and Asia to work together to promote the rights of migrant workers and to end modern day slavery.”
The multiplier effect
Jim Hart, from the Hart Line Fund, a sub-fund of Australian Communities Foundation, has been supporting the Diplomacy Training Program since 2006 after he heard about DTP’s human rights network building at an event with Jose Ramos Horta and Patrick Earle.
“DTP tackles human rights abuses through education not confrontation,” Hart says.
“By giving individuals the knowledge about human rights and the advocacy skills to defend those rights, DTP has trained thousands of human rights defenders to help their communities take appropriate action. As more and more people become trained and share their skills the effect is multiplied and there is now a network of thousands of human rights defenders throughout Asia and the Pacific who work both locally and in collaboration with each other to oppose human rights abuses.”
After supporting DTP for 14 years, Hart says the organisation’s greatest limitation is “that it is severely under-resourced.”
“Greater philanthropic support would not only provide direct assistance but would also help leverage greater funding from government and other sources.”
Not only does philanthropic support make it possible for DTP to provide training to human rights defenders, Earle says it also qualifies the organisation for funding from the Australian Government and enables the use of pro bono support from leading trainers.
It also shows communities and human rights defenders in the Asia-Pacific that Australians do feel connected to the region, and do care about human rights, and this also matters.
Despite the countless threats to human rights across the globe, Earle is encouraged by the incremental progress being made, particularly in the Asia Pacific, but warns this is no time for complacency.
“There are vibrant movements for change – on disability and on gender – there are more international standards on human rights than ever – recognising the rights of Indigenous peoples and the responsibilities of business,” he says.
“There are the sustainable development goals and global agreements on refugees and migrants. These can be powerful tools, but the challenge is in implementation.
“Right now, we have a greater focus on the Pacific, where climate change is having the most profound impacts on lives and exploitation of natural resources is accelerating with negative impacts on local communities.”