The Diplomacy Training Program, an independent NGO affiliated with UNSW Law, has become the first Australian organisation to be awarded the Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award in Taipei.

The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) established the award, which honours individuals or organisations that demonstrate long-term commitment and outstanding leadership in advancing democracy or human rights through peaceful means in Asia.

The Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) received the 2019 award on Tuesday.

TFD President Ford Fu-Te Liao said the DTP had much in common with the TFD in offering resources and training to human rights activists and democracy advocates.

“We hope the award could facilitate future exchanges concerning human rights and democracy between the DTP and the TFD,” he said.

Patrick Earle, DTP’s Executive Director, said it meant a lot for the organisation to have this recognition from the region – for its work and the work of its 3000-plus alumni.

“And we are, of course, very appreciative of the support we receive and affiliation we have with UNSW. Only last week, we were handing out UNSW certificates to DTP participants from government and civil society in Papua New Guinea. They had just completed our program on Business and Human Rights and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

DTP is the longest-running human rights training program in the Asia Pacific, with a comprehensive annual program complemented by specialist training on key issues such as Indigenous peoples, migrant workers rights, modern-day slavery and human rights and business. It links Australia to historic movements for human rights and democracy in Asia, including Indonesia and Timor-Leste, Malaysia and Myanmar.

The non-profit organisation is solely an educational institution, relying on grants, donations and training fees. It draws on the expertise of UNSW academics and human rights practitioners who provide their training services pro bono. The award’s accompanying $US100,000 grant will support DTP’s ongoing work.

DTP was founded in 1989 by José Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Timor-Leste, along with the late Emeritus Professor Garth Nettheim from UNSW Law. Its establishment was based on Dr Ramos-Horta's own experience seeking international support for East Timor's struggle for independence.

“It was a courageous decision of UNSW to host DTP back in 1989, when Australia didn’t want to upset Indonesia in relation to East Timor,” Mr Earle said.

“Human rights have become a sensitive issue in our region again, and human rights defenders in many countries in our region are under increasing pressure with shrinking space for civil society. It is more important than ever to provide support to the human rights movements in Asia and the Pacific. This award will help us do that.”

Belinda Henwood