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ASEAN Community will Be a Failure without Regional Rights Protections: ASEAN MPs Call for Independence and Strengthened Mandate for Regional Human Rights Commission

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights  •  June 26, 2014

ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) Regional Consultation on Contribution to the Review of the AICHR’s TOR, taking place in Bangkok on the 27–28 June 2014

BANGKOK — The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) has failed to bring any discernible improvement to or provide any protection for the basic rights of the people of Southeast Asia since its inception in 2009 and must be radically changed in ways that strengthen its independence and mandate if the ASEAN Community is to have any real meaning or impact, Southeast Asian lawmakers said today.

“AICHR is holding consultations with civil society groups and other stakeholders regarding the review of its terms of reference. A lot of worthwhile and fundamental suggestions have been made, but it’s unclear which, if any, of these opinions will be taken on board and implemented,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) President Eva Kusuma Sundari.

“We are still very, very far from a properly functioning regional human rights mechanism, but if AICHR is to bring us any closer to the concept of collective responsibility and collective prosperity, then it has to be given the mandate to act, and be independent from national governmental interference: its representatives must represent the people of Southeast Asia, not the governments.”

The below statement from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) came ahead of the two-day Regional Consultation on Contribution to the Review of the AICHR’s Terms of Reference (ToR) taking place in Bangkok on the 27–28 June 2014. The below statement was delivered on June 26 to the AICHR representative of Thailand, Dr. Seree Nonthasoot, as well as the AICHR Chairperson, H .E. Kyaw Tint Swe and representatives of the ASEAN Secretariat.

The membership-based organisation of like-minded elected parliamentarians and ‘influential persons’ from ASEAN member countries made the statement as part of its input to the on-going process of the review of AICHR’s ToR.

APHR’s calls are as follows:

1.      While appreciating that human rights in now institutionalized in ASEAN with the establishment of AICHR in 2009, we, as elected parliamentarians, believe that human rights only have meaning if people are able to exercise them. We recognise the contribution that AICHR has made to the regional debate on human rights and its importance, and recognise the tireless of work of some of the AICHR representatives over this time. However, we also would like to state our disappointment with the approach to the position of some of the AICHR representatives over this same period: some appear to have seen their role as primarily that of defending and deflecting possible human rights concerns away from their member country, rather than that of upholding and furthering the protection of human rights across the region, irrespective of where violations take place and who the victims or perpetrators are.

2.      We are extremely concerned that it is becoming more and more difficult and dangerous for our constituents to perform their work in defending the human rights of fellow citizens in the ASEAN region. Many human rights defenders risk their lives to battle against injustices, often committed by officers of the state, as well as representatives of private companies and non-state armed groups among others. This situation is worsened with the lack of sufficient human rights protections in some ASEAN countries, and to date AICHR has not offered any further protection at the regional level for these human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations.

3.      We are deeply concerned that AICHR has failed to establish or outline possible means to improve human rights protections for the people in ASEAN over the last five years. The lack of redress for victims of human rights violations at the national and regional levels is both symptomatic of and a contributing factor to the widespread problem of impunity in ASEAN: without addressing these fundamental concerns for regional respect for and protection of human rights, the process of building an ASEAN Community is rendered more or less meaningless.

4.      In exercising our roles as parliamentarians, APHR members have conducted country visits and fact-finding missions to seek further information from the Lao authorities on the disappearance of Laotian activist Sombath Somphone: in doing so we exercised our roles to question governments on their international human rights obligations.

5.      Representing the concerns of our constituencies to the strengthening of human rights mechanisms, we believe that,

  • a.      AICHR should put in place an emergency protection mechanism for human rights, such as a precautionary measures mechanism.
  • b.     AICHR should institutionalize a mechanism by which citizens have direct communication with the system, such as appointment of special rapporteurs/independent experts that can function as the eyes and ears of the regional human rights machinery and in the detection of early warning signs of potential abuses and rights violations.
  • c.      AICHR should have a mandate to reduce the risk of human rights abuses, denounce human rights violation and seek States’ accountability on their human rights obligations.
  • d.     AICHR and it representatives should be entirely independent of political or governmental control and influence, right through from the process of the selection and appointment of country Representatives to the exercising of its collective mandate to protect human rights.

The grouping of elected Parliamentarians of ASEAN and former statesmen expressed their appreciation for AICHR’s consideration of their Statement, stressing that AICHR has the potential to play a key and central role in ensuring we all move forward together as a true Community. APHR extended its gratitude to all of the commissioners for their hard work to this effect.

The Parliamentarians said they would raise the same concerns at the national level in their resepective parliaments and with their legislative and executive branches of government to raise support for an strengthening of the mandate of AICHR as well as its independence. The TOR presents a valuable opportunity to identify and set those key goals that will make ASEAN, and all its individual member states, stronger, more stable, more prosperous and more united, APHR said.

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