Traditional Indonesian dancers at the 6th Human Rights Conference in Yogyakarta

Bridging research and policymaking: 6th Conference on Human Rights

23 November 2023
Indigeneity and human rights in Asia and the Pacific
The Conference on Human Rights provides a platform for academics, activists and practitioners to explore human rights issues in Southeast Asia and beyond.

SSEAC was pleased to co-convene the 6th Conference on Human Rights with the Department of Politics and Government at the Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta in October.

This year's theme was 'Indigeneity and Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific Towards a Just Society: Challenges and Opportunities'. 

As well as a large delegation of scholars from Southeast Asia (including Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei), many participants came from the broader region and further afield, including India, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands and the US.

“It was exciting to see so many scholars in-person after the more constrained pandemic years,” said Professor Sonja Van Wichelen, SSEAC Deputy Director.

“The Conference on Human Rights is a unique forum in that it brings together not only scholars working on human rights topics but also leverages important political and activist actors to bridge some of the important translational work between research and policymaking.”

The conference showcased papers by scholars from around the region and covered an array of human rights-related issues.

Professor Van Wichelen gave a plenary presentation on global bioethics in the pursuit of open science, providing insights into inequalities in bioscientific exchange and how these impact health and human rights.

Cover of Indonesia language edition of Michele Ford's book, Workers and Intellectuals: NGOs, Trade Unions and the Indonesian Labour Movement, Buruh dan Intelektual: LSM, Mahasiswa, dan Gerakan Buruh Indonesia

The Indonesian translation of SSEAC Director Professor Michele Ford's first book, Workers and Intellectuals: NGOs, Trade Unions and the Indonesian Labour Movement, was also launched at the conference. 

An expanding topic of interest is that of human rights and ecological justice. Many sessions detailed the myriad ways climate change is affecting the human right to health, housing, water, food and livelihoods. The Southeast Asian region is especially prone to the global ecological crisis with many papers detailing deforestation, nickel exploitation, rising coastal flooding and loss of biodiversity.

A highlight for Professor Van Wichelen was plenary speaker Dr Herlambang Wiratraman, a legal scholar from UGM.

“Dr Wiratraman spoke eloquently about the need to advocate for climate constitutionalism,” she said. “Drawing from the legal context in Indonesia, he described how a search for eco-social justice can only be met when forms of ‘autocratic legalism’ are challenged. Over the past few decades, Indonesian law has witnessed too much ‘oligarch-based’ legal reform to the detriment of the environment. A successful form of climate constitutionalism cannot be drawn up without addressing massive capital accumulation.”

“Moreover, he noted a human rights-based approach to climate constitutionalism would require a notion of future generations – in the sense that climate change will reduce the enjoyment of rights.”

While the conference was primarily in-person, it also reserved a stream that accommodated hybrid and online-only sessions. Some of the livestreamed sessions included religion and human rightsindigeneity, democracy and human rightssocial inclusion and human rightsauthoritarianism, human rights and technology; and human rights and education.

“There was also a stream dedicated to presentations conducted in Indonesian. Many participants appreciated the variety of formats, commenting on the sense of inclusiveness without losing international reach,” Professor Van Wichelen said.

The 7th Conference on Human Rights will be held in August 2024 at the Faculty of Law at Brawijaya University in Malang. The theme for 2024 is ‘Human Rights, Peace, and Innovation in Asia and the Pacific: A Synergistic Approach to Sustainable Societies’. The call for papers will close on 31 January 2024. See our Events page for more details

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