Basil Fernando believes in the ordinary people - the farmers, the fishermen and the blue-collar workers. He wants to give them a voice and protect their rights. In 1994, the Sri Lankan-born Mr Fernando was appointed executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The organisation, based in Hong Kong, is dedicated to alleviating human suffering in the developing nations of south and southeast Asia. It also lobbies for the right of people to support protests in other Asian countries, such as the Article 23 demonstrations in Hong Kong. 'Everywhere in Asia you see an enormous amount of poverty and neglect,' he says. 'Basically, the idea that influenced me is that people matter.' Since he joined the commission, Mr Fernando has exposed torture in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, carried out mainly by local police. His interest in helping people started as a teenager when he was inspired by a Dutch Catholic priest who lived in Sri Lanka. The priest set up small meetings with people in the village to discuss everything from their livestock and boats to family problems. 'Usually people think these fishermen and workers are illiterate, but when you talk to them they come with this tremendous intelligence and they bring insight to what's happening,' he says. 'I have much more respect for these ordinary people, who get involved and try to solve problems, than the intellectuals. Intellectuals are so far away from reality.' Mr Fernando, 58, is a solicitor by training. His first job was teaching English to university students. Then for nine years he practised law in Sri Lanka, with an emphasis on criminal, employment and human rights law. In 1989 he came to Hong Kong to work as an appeals counsel for Vietnamese refugees through a project sponsored by the United Nations. Before joining the Asian Human Rights Commission, Mr Fernando was a senior human rights officer at the United Nations. Other areas of the commission's focus are the right to food and a fair trial. It has collected data on food availability in Myanmar and is calling for sanctions on Indonesia after the burning of 61 schools, allegedly by the military, in Indonesia's Aceh province. In India the commission is working to abolish caste discrimination and in Pakistan it is working to end 'honour killings' of women. The commission also works on humanitarian issues in Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. It is not equipped to do humanitarian work in these countries so it reports problems to international organisations such as the UN and Amnesty International. It also has legal aide schemes for victims of human rights violations and has led lobbies against torture and erosion of freedoms.