ASEAN should establish a human rights body that is not below international standards

Posted by under ASEAN Watch on 20 June 2009

NGOs are not rejecting ASEAN's plan to promote human rights but stressed that the AHRB should be empowered to carry out protection work to address human rights violations in the region.

ASEAN should establish a human rights body
that is not below international standards

Bangkok, 18 June 2009) Civil society organizations in the region are concerned that ASEAN is about to establish a human rights body that is below international standards. The Solidarity for Asian People's Advocacy Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TF-AHR), a network of more than 50 organizations, is apprehensive that the final draft of the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the establishment of the ASEAN Human Rights body (AHRB) will result in a body that will be engaged mostly in the promotion of human rights, while lacking a mandate in protection work. The TOR is planned to be adopted by the ten Foreign Ministers in the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Phuket, Thailand, in July.

"It is disturbing that we are only a month away from the AMM, yet, we continue to hear that the protection mandate and the appointment of independent experts are yet to be included in the TOR," says Rafendi Djamin, the coordinator of Indonesian's NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Working Group (HRWG).

"ASEAN should not go below international standards when setting up the ASEAN human rights body," stressed Djamin, who is also Convenor of the SAPA TF-AHR.

NGOs are not rejecting ASEAN's plan to promote human rights but stressed that the AHRB should be empowered to carry out protection work to address human rights violations in the region.

Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA said that "while the promotion of human rights is essential, in a region where human rights violations are common place, it is of paramount importance that the first regional human rights protection mechanism in Asia should have the mandate to carry out on-site visits to inquire into specific human rights concerns as well as to investigate human rights violations".

He added "The experience of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) showed that when they visited Argentina in 1979, they received 5,000 complaints. The ensuing report remains one of the most important reports prepared by the IACHR as it showed patterns of how people were detained, taken to secret detention centres and then extra-judicially executed."

Thun Saray, the President of Cambodian Human Rights and Development (ADHOC), also Cambodian focal point of SAPA TF-AHR said "Another key role for a human rights body would also be to assess and review the general human rights situation in the region and to publish reports and recommendations for collective action at the regional level." He pointed out that this mechanism differs from the universal periodic review (UPR) process of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UPR leaves the implementation of each country's commitments to that particular country itself.

Wathshlah Naidu, the Gender Focal Point for SAPA TF-AHR and Programme Officer of the International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, stressed that appointing experts to serve on the AHRB is vital. "They should serve in their personal capacity to promote and protect human rights. The selection process of these experts should be transparent, carried out after extensive and meaningful consultations with civil society," says Ms Naidu.

"The body must provide human rights protection mechanism to ensure just remedies for all victims. A body with teeth should be established, and not another toothless mechanism " says Sinapan Samydorai, the Singapore Country Focal Point of SAPA TF-AHR and the Convenor of the SAPA Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers.

"We envision an ASEAN Human Rights body that complies with the Paris Principles. It must be to fulfill the ASEAN peoples' legitimate expectations for a body that can protect their rights," added Sister Cres Lucero, Philippines Country Focal Point for SAPA TF-AHR and the Deputy Director of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.

SAPA TF-AHR was established during the first Regional Consultation on ASEAN and Human Rights in Kuala Lumpur on 26-28 August 2007. It is a network of civil society organisations which aims to a) hold ASEAN member states accountable to their international and domestic human rights obligations, and b) make the ASEAN human rights mechanisms more accountable and effective. Early in 2009, the SAPA TFAHR launched the campaign on "we want ASEAN human rights commission with teeth!: accountable, effective and independent".

For more information, please contact:

Yap Swee Seng, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (in Bangkok), +6681 868 9178,

Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia's NGO Coalition on International Human Rights Advocacy (in Jakarta), +6281311442159,

Sr. Cres Lucero, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (in Manila), +632 437 8054,

Thun Saray, Cambodia Human Rights and Development (in Phnom Penh), +855 23 218653,

Sinapan Samydorai, Think Centre, (in Singapore), 6594791906,

Sources and Relevant Links: Asean Human Rights:Proposed body should adopt UN's criteria 14 Sep 2008

AseanAffairs Asean Human Rights Body: Myanmar: Junta opposes investigative powers 23 July 2008

Forum Asia ASEAN must ensure independence and effectiveness of its human rights body 03 March 2009

Mysinchew Toothless: ASEAN has no provision to expel Myanmar 26 May 2009

UN OHCHR The Paris Principles

Show some love,

Back to Previous Page