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Activists Chide Asean Human Rights Body Over Failure to Establish Working Guidelines

Originally appeared in The Jakarta Globe

April 4, 2010

Human rights activists on Sunday criticized last week’s inaugural meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ human rights body in Jakarta for failing to produce a draft of organizational procedures that would determine its operations — and whether the commission would have any real clout.

Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), said over the weekend that there was not enough time to cover all the scheduled agenda items during the body’s three-and-a-half-day meeting.

He said the AICHR’s procedures and working plan were discussed, although they were not finalized because “we had to do a lot of adjustments.”

The AICHR was inaugurated with great fanfare in Thailand last October. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called it “a significant milestone” because it was the first human rights watchdog in Asean’s 42-year history.

The majority of Asean’s 10 member nations still lack many basic human rights protections. Burma, for example, is a human rights pariah, while other nations lack a free press or important political rights.

Activists criticized the AICHR at the time of its founding as toothless because it focused on promoting, rather than protecting, human rights and lacked authority to impose punishments for rights violations.

Papang Hidayat, the head of research at Indonesia’s Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said the AICHR’s failure to draft its organizational procedures “gives the impression that some Asean member countries that have serious records on human rights violations are trying to delay the process.”

He said the failure to draft the procedures, which could have been copied from other international human rights bodies, demonstrated that the AICHR was “not serious.”

He added that it could be “very difficult for a rights body to reach a consensus in a regional bloc whose member states have very bad records on human rights.”

Atnike Nova Sigiro, a human rights campaigner with the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), told the Jakarta Globe that the meeting should have resulted in a mechanism for protecting human rights in the region.

“They could have at least done that, since they could not come up with a mechanism for [human rights abuse] settlement,” she said.

Atnike added that the mechanism would be significant to guarantee human rights protection for refugees and migrant workers, for example, and to promote freedom of expression and other civil and political rights in Southeast Asia.

She said she also regretted that the rights body ended its meeting without communicating its results to the public, other than a three-paragraph statement.

“The AICHR could have garnered more support if its meeting results were made available to the public,” Atnike said.

Rafendi said the rights body has formed a task force that will come up with an initial draft by the end of April.

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This post is in: ASEAN

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