40th Anniversary Highlights the Need to Set ASEAN on a New Path

Posted by under Opinions on 9 August 2007

FORUM-ASIA would like to share with the High Level Task Force members its concerns over the draft ASEAN Charter, as ASEAN prepares to mark its 40th anniversary on 8 August.

To: The High Level Task Force on the ASEAN Charter:

H.E. Rosario G. Manalo
H.E. Pengiran Dato Paduka Osman Patra
H.E. Dr. Kao Kim Hourn
H.E. Dian Triansyah Djani
H.E. Bounkeut Sangsomsak
H.E. Tan Sri Ahmad Fuzi Haji Abdul Razak
H.E. Aung Bwa
H.E. Tommy Koh
H.E. Sihasak Phuangketkeow
H.E. Nguyen Trung Thanh

Dear High Level Task Force Member,

Subject: 40th Anniversary Highlights the Need to Set ASEAN on a New Path

FORUM-ASIA would like to share with the High Level Task Force members its concerns over the draft ASEAN Charter, as ASEAN prepares to mark its 40th anniversary on 8 August.

As all Members are aware, the Charter presents the opportunity of creating a people-centred ASEAN that promotes and protects all human rights for all the people of Southeast Asia. To secure this, internationally agreed human rights standards need to be included as one of the underlying principles of the Charter along with a specific reference to the creation of an ASEAN human rights mechanism.

The news from the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) last week that ASEAN foreign ministers have agreed to the creation of a regional human rights "body" is welcomed, but FORUM-ASIA remains concerned over the lack of information on the form and substance of this body.

The final wording of the Charter to be agreed in November has the potential to restrict the development of a credible regional human rights mechanism by paving the way for the creation of a political body which acts as a talking shop at the behest of ASEAN member states. It is no longer acceptable for ASEAN to create the illusion of progress on human rights when, in reality, nothing changes on the ground to tackle the appalling and intolerable human rights violations that continue to occur on a daily basis in the region.

Instead, it is vital that the wording in the Charter lays the foundations for the creation of a regional body that has the ability to improve the human rights situation on the ground in Southeast Asia. This will require a body of independent experts who are able to investigate, free from outside interference, credible allegations of human rights violations and to make recommendations. A body of independent experts should also be assigned to conduct thematic studies on human rights issues of particular relevance to the region, helping to place international human rights standards in the regional and national context. Eventually, the creation of a body (i.e. a court) will be required to evaluate reports received of human rights violations and to issue legally binding decisions to the states concerned. Furthermore, the participation of civil society should be guaranteed in helping to monitor and report on the human rights situation on the ground, and in monitoring the implementation of recommendations made by the regional human rights body.

FORUM-ASIA would also like to raise its concerns over the timeframe for the creation of a regional human rights mechanism. During the AMM, Malaysia's foreign minister suggested that a regional human rights body could not be created until national human rights mechanisms were created in each of the ASEAN countries. With this prerequisite in place, ASEAN would likely spend the next 40 years without a regional human rights mechanism. FORUM-ASIA therefore urges the High Level Task Force not to place such preconditions in the draft charter.

As ASEAN prepares to celebrate 40 years, it is a good time to reflect on what has been achieved in terms of the promotion and protection of human rights at the regional level during this time. In spite of all the words spoken and written on human rights over the years, there remain no regional human rights structures to guide and regulate the exercise of state power. Many plans and programmes of action have been adopted over the years, claiming to tackle the human rights issues of the region. However, little was ever said on how such programmes would be implemented or how progress would be monitored in order to bring about real change. Similarly, the array of human rights related declarations that have been made by ASEAN over the years, with their non-binding nature, have had little effect in guiding and regulating the behaviour of the governments of Southeast Asia.

The ASEAN Charter presents an opportunity to set ASEAN on a new path towards becoming an intergovernmental organisation that does start to play a more substantive role in improving the human rights situation on the ground in Southeast Asia. Recognising how rarely such opportunities come along in ASEAN, FORUM-ASIA encourages members of the High Level Task Force to be bold and to stand firm in helping to set ASEAN on a new path.


Anselmo Lee
Executive Director

CC: H.E. Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General of ASEAN
Mr. Termasak Chalermpalanupap, Special Assistant to the Secretary-General
SAPA Working Group on ASEAN

The letter is on behalf of FORUM-ASIA's 40 member organisations in 15 countries in Asia South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI), Indonesia
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
Cambodia League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Mongolia
Commission for the "Disappeared" and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS), Indonesia
Community Trust Fund (CTF), Sri Lanka
Education and Research Association for Consumer (ERA Consumer), Malaysia
Friend's Association for Rural Reconstruction (FARR), India
Globe International (GI), Mongolia
HAK Association, Timor Leste
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan
Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)
Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) Indonesia
Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL)
Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI), Indonesia
Information Monitor (INFORM), Sri Lanka
Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), Nepal
Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP), Timor Leste
Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS), South Korea
Law and Society Trust (LST), Sri Lanka
Legal Resources for Social Action (LRSA), India
Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA), Bangladesh
Paglingkod Batas Pangkapapatiran Foundation (PBPF), Philippines
Paralegal Training and Services Center (PTSC), Philippines
People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), South Korea
People's Watch, India
Philippines Alliance for Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Philippines
PILIPINA Legal Resources Center (PLRC), Philippines
Odhikar, Bangladesh ,br> Resource Integration Centre (RIC), Bangladesh
Sekretariat Anak Merdeka Indonesia (SAMIN), Indonesia
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR)
Tanggol-Kalikasan-Public Interest Environmental Law Office, Philippines
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), Philippines
Think Centre, Singapore
Women's Welfare Society (WWS), Nepal
Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia (YLBHI)

For more information, please contact:

Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), +66 (02) 391 8801, anselmo@forum-asia.org or Daniel Collinge, Programme Officer on ASEAN Advocacy, at daniel@forum-asia.org, tel: (66-2) 391-8801 ext 603.

Sources and Relevant Links:

Forum Asia 40th Anniversary Highlights the Need to Set ASEAN on a New Path 06 August 2007

Forum Asia ASEAN Workshop Highlights Need for Greater Civil Society Involvement 26 July 2007

Forum Asia Human Rights in Asia: Arbour's Recommendations 25 July 2007

In most states the practice of advocacy is neglected and the implementation of human rights treaties and the recommendations of the Special Procedures are ignored.

OHCHR adopted by the General Assembly: 60/251. Human Rights Council
3 April 2006

At the end of the discussion, the High Commissioner requested that Asian NGOs improve engagement with governments in order to maximise their human rights development objectives. She noted that the role of NGOs in the region is to push the human rights agenda at the national and international level.

Show some love,

Back to Previous Page