Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) is a regional non-profit, non-governmental organization working to strengthen accountability and respect for human rights in the Asia-Pacific region. Its work focuses on countries involved in transition from a context of mass human rights violations to democracy.
AJAR works where there is a high level of need and where the organization can make a significant difference. The focus is on contexts in which thousands have been subjected to serious human rights violations, such as mass killings, rape and disappearances, also the widespread abuse of children.
To achieve an accountable society free from impunity, AJAR works to increase awareness and understanding of key issues with the general public; to empower those who know the context best; to expand and improve networks; and to influence laws and policy by providing accurate information.
AJAR believes that peace and democracy can only be sustained if impunity, corruption, denial of the truth about past violations are addressed. They aim to equip both local and national actors with the necessary skills, knowledge and resources for their long-term efforts to strengthen accountability.
AJAR’s vision is to build accountable and sustainable societies, free from impunity, by implementing a broad-based and holistic approach. The approach is not necessarily sequential, as need determines the most appropriate entry point. Depending on circumstances, skills and experiences, individuals or organizations may be involved in one or more building blocks outlined described below.
Promoting awareness and understanding – research is commissioned and campaigns are undertaken by developing and using popular education tools like television series, social media postings, exhibitions, music concerts and newspaper articles. Writing and producing highly entertaining television series, radio programs, social media postings, street theatre performances and so on, increases the understanding of key rights and democracy issues among a broad segment of the population. These ‘edutainment’ activities are augmented and reinforced by carefully documenting atrocities, ensuring the truth is properly recorded and testimonies and reports are made available for present and future generations.
Developing capacity – a core part of AJAR’s work is conducting training courses, workshops and focus group discussions, as well as fostering exchanges and internships. These activities contribute to increasing the effectiveness of individuals and organizations committed to the struggle for positive change. The focus of activities is not only on victims and members of marginalized and vulnerable groups, but also on strengthening the capacity of current and emerging leaders. Work includes curriculum development with formal academic institutions like Universidade da Paz in Dili or Serikat Pengajar HAM (the Association of Human Rights Lecturers) in Jakarta. Many training activities are poorly devised and implemented resulting in little sustained improvement in capacity. AJAR’s unique contribution to capacity development is the quality of its courses and materials. Drawing on ten years of work, it has developed highly effective modules and methodologies. AJAR places a high value on participatory methodologies such as those used in “stone and flower” workshops attended by more than 1000 women victims of gender-based violations. By strengthening civil society organizations and individual human rights defenders, and by engaging survivors and giving voice to victims, AJAR has gained the credibility to promote and support meaningful and sustainable change.
Building social capital – in an increasingly polarized society, establishing linkages and building and maintaining networks is more important than ever. AJAR builds social capital by supporting linkages and developing and maintaining works across the Asia Pacific region. These networks have resulted in, for example, Thai Buddhists assisting Muslims in the ‘deep south’, Philippine Christians assisting Muslim victims in Mindanao and Indonesian Muslims supporting Christian victims in Papua. These initiatives provide positive examples that counter the spread of hatred and reduce polarization and radicalization. A key initiative managed by AJAR is the Transitional Justice Asia Network or TJAN. Members of this network participated in a series of in-depth six-day trainings to provide support to a range of national initiatives to develop policy, draft laws and assist institutions such as the current Aceh Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In addition, AJAR fosters linkages with networks in Africa and the Americas Caribbean. These south-south linkages are designed to build knowledge and exchange experiences, ideas and resources. For example, AJAR is an active member of the Global Initiative for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation, a consortium of nine organizations from Indonesia, Guatemala, South Africa, Cambodia, Serbia and the United States. Globally, AJAR is one of six founding members of the Coalition for Justice in Asia committed to strengthening coordination in pursuit of justice for serious crimes (other members include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists). Providing a bridge from the grassroots to the international arena is a powerful way of engaging policy-makers, ensuring they gain knowledge and understanding directly from the experiences of the abused. This puts them in a better position to make informed decisions and to develop policies based on relevant and accurate information.
Engaging policy-makers and institutions – by engaging institutions like the UN and government agencies and formal, traditional and academic institutions, as well as prosecution mechanisms, truth and reconciliation commissions and national human rights institutions, AJAR is able to develop and influence policy through commissioning research and undertaking comparative studies. By being in contact with both survivors of violations and human rights defenders, AJAR is in a powerful position to draw on knowledge gained in order to formulate inputs and make suggestions for policy change. Policy inputs are based on real situations within communities rather than on second- and third-hand accounts put forward by perpetrators and large business and commercial operators designed to serve their interests. Some examples of where AJAR has influenced policy include, contributing to the establishment of the national institution Centro Nacional Chega, with a mandate to implement recommendations from CAVR (the Truth Commission), in Timor Leste, drafting regulations for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Aceh, and providing technical assistance for the national policy and draft law on Conflict Prevention and Victims’ Rights in the Solomon Islands.
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