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ASEAN Human Rights Declaration Cannot Move Forward Without Genuine Consultation of Civil Society

By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus  •  May 30, 2012

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) today called on ASEAN to delay the putting of its draft declaration on human rights before the foreign ministers of members states next month pending a fully inclusive, meaningful and transparent consultation of civil society and other stakeholders.

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is due to meet in Yangon, Myanmar from June 3–6 as it continues a series of closed-door meetings for the drafting of this vital declaration. It plans to place the draft ASEAN human rights declaration (AHRD) before ASEAN foreign ministers at the end of June.

AIPMC is extremely concerned by the secrecy in which the drafting process has been shrouded. The transparency and level of consultation with NGOs and civil society has been sadly lacking to date. The discussion of human rights cannot be complete or credible without meaningful input from civil society and national human rights institutions and AIPMC fully understands the frustrations of civil society organizations in being shut out of the drafting process.

“Hosting this meeting in Myanmar is a brave step. Grave human rights concerns remain in that country, as they do in many ASEAN states today,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, AIPMC President and Indonesian Member of Parliament. “It is regrettable that the process for drafting this most important of declarations is being carried out in a less than transparent manner — we are missing an opportunity to set the tone for a more inclusive ASEAN that truly regards human rights as a guiding pillar for progress. The principles of transparency, accountability, and consultation have been sadly lacking.”

While AIPMC welcomes AICHR’s planned consultation with NGOs in June, it believes the drafting process to date has fallen far short of international standards and must be conducted in a more open and transparent manner, that allows for the input from an active, intelligent and capable civil society during the drafting process, not after it is already complete.

AICHR should make the draft of the declaration publicly available and postpone the draft reading by ASEAN foreign ministers in June pending a full and meaningful consultation with ASEAN civil society. AIPMC calls on AICHR to formulate a meaningful process by which the views of broad-based civil society organizations representing the full range of human rights can be heard and incorporated into a genuine declaration on rights that is fully comprehensive and is genuine in its attempts to meet the aspirations and needs of the people of ASEAN.

The ASEAN region continues to go through rapid political and economic development and change, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Myanmar. The AHRD is, in the words of the ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, supposed to be the “road-map for regional human rights development” for years to come. If the future of ASEAN is its people, then this week, AICHR has the opportunity to lead by example, and arrange for open and consultative meetings with local NGOs and civil society actors, from all walks of life in Myanmar.

“The people of Myanmar have been seeking a voice for generations. Real hope is descending on parts of the country, but there are still serious concerns regarding the civil, political and economic rights of the people. This week, AICHR has the opportunity to engage with the people of Myanmar and give them a voice in the region’s future,” said Son Chhay, AIPMC Vice President and member of the Cambodian Parliament.

“How can a ‘human rights commission’ operate while continually refusing to talk to those whose rights it is supposed to protect? Something does not sit right when ASEAN’s leading human rights proponents are sitting in Yangon writing their human rights declaration, while a few hundred kilometres away in Kachin State, a vicious war is being fought, where people are being raped and killed, and allegations of forced military porters, targeting of civilians and other human rights abuses are rife. Can they really sit there and right the charter that is supposed to be defending the rights of these people without bothering to consult them? The way in which this declaration is drafted is of immense significance — it must be done in a transparent manner and with the consultation of the people of all member states,” Son Chhay added.

AIPMC calls on the members of AICHR to arrange for consultation with local civil society actors in Myanmar when it meets there this week. Following that, the draft charter should be made available for public review, and meaningful and efficient consultation mechanisms should be set up to encourage the input of people from all across Southeast Asia. ASEAN has a genuine opportunity to set the standard for a fully open and participatory development of a human rights instrument. At present, it is lagging behind international standards, which gives AIPMC cause for considerable concern.

Of grave concern is that rather than set standards above existing international human rights law, the ASEAN declaration could in fact fall short of current standards in human rights and therefore undermine the rights of ASEAN people as currently guaranteed by international legal instruments.

AIPMC backs recent calls made by scores of regional and international human rights observers for ASEAN to adopt a more inclusive and transparent approach to the drafting of its human rights declaration. These include: the immediate publication of the draft AHRD to allow for meaningful public participation in the drafting process; the widening of existing national consultation processes being held by AICHR representatives in their respective countries that take into account varying national and regional aspirations and issues; the translation of the draft AHRD into all local languages of ASEAN to ensure broad public participation in the drafting process; and to ensure any future consultation meetings are inclusive of all stakeholders, particularly civil society organisations and human rights institutions.

“It feels somehow as if we are missing a great opportunity to shape ASEAN for the better. The ASEAN human rights declaration is a vital step for the region and while there is still hope that we are moving in the right direction, so far, we are failing to stand up for the rights of the people as we should be,” said Yusmadi Yusoff, AIPMC member and Malaysian Member of Parliament.

For further information and interview requests please contact Agung Putri Astrid on +62 81514006416, or by email at info.jakarta@aseanmp.org, or aipmcalerts@gmail.com.

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This post is in: ASEAN, Press Release

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