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20th HRC Regular Session – Oral Statement Item 8: Follow-up to and Implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) – General Debate

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Oral Statement Delivered by Mr. Yap Swee Seng on Behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

3 July 2012

Thank you, Madam President. FORUM-ASIA draws the attention of the Council to the recent developments on the drafting of a sub-regional human rights declaration by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). We echo the call from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in her 11 May press release, that a transparent process of inclusive and meaningful consultation on the draft is key in ensuring that the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration has the ownership and support of the peoples of Southeast Asia.[1] In this light, we welcome the first formal regional-level consultation held by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in Kuala Lumpur on 22 June 2012. However, we regret that the consultation was far too late and impaired by the non-disclosure of the draft Declaration to comment on. Moreover, civil society was only partially represented and some human rights groups were barred from participation in the consultation. While we commend the efforts of the AICHR representatives from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand for organizing national consultations with civil society in recent months, we strongly urge the other ASEAN States to follow in this example. Additionally, wherever consultations take place, ASEAN States must ensure broad participation of civil society and the public as well as national human rights institutions.[2]

Madam President, FORUM-ASIA is encouraged by the AICHR’s efforts to “add value” in the Declaration by emphasizing such rights as the right to development. We also appreciate AICHR’s aspirations expressed at the regional consultation that the Declaration will not go below international human rights standards. However, taking into account the extremely limited ratifications of core human rights treaties by ASEAN States, their commitment to drafting a robust Declaration is not far-reaching enough. Moreover, we remain concerned that important rights such as right to self-determination, rights of indigenous peoples, right to sexual orientation and gender identity, and prevention of enforced disappearances, may be missing or inadequately recognized. Provisions on national and regional particularities, restrictions to rights on ground of public morality, balancing of rights and responsibilities of individuals, qualifying the rights in the Declaration to the limitations of national laws are also questionable. We urge AICHR to include a provision that guarantees the Declaration will not be implemented in a manner that undermines international human rights norms and standards. We call on AICHR to work closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in this regard. Finally, we call on the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in July to postpone the finalization of the Declaration to allow more time for meaningful and extensive public consultation.[3] The AMM must make public the draft Declaration. Thank you, Madam President.

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[1] UN Press Release, “Pillay Urges ASEAN to Set the Bar High with Its Regional Human Rights Declaration”, 11 May 2012,

[2] Press Release, “Civil Society Organisations Meet AICHR on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, Call for Universal Standards to be Upheld”, 22 June 2012,

[3] Joint Submission to the AICHR on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration by Civil Society Organisations and People’s Movements Participating in the Fifth Regional Consultation on ASEAN and Human Rights, 22 June 2012,