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ASEAN: High Level Panel must ensure civil society participation

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asean.jpgHuman rights NGOs welcomed the appointment of High Level Panel members to draft terms of reference for the ASEAN human rights body, but called for it to ensure adequate participation of civil society representatives, from all sectors and thematic issues, at national and regional levels.

"We also call on the Panel to make available its draft Terms of Reference so that we can have meaningful discussions on it during consultation meetings with civil society groups and the general public,"  said Rafendi Djamin, the Convenor of the Task Force on ASEAN Human Rights Body(Task Force) following the recent 41st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Singapore.   

On 21 July, Bilahiri Kausikan, High Level Panel chairman confirmed the appointments and added that the Panel consisted of 10 members representing 10 ASEAN countries, while Indonesia and Thailand have one other alternate members.  

In response to this, the Task Force welcomed the appointment of Professor Vitit Muntaphorn, the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea as an alternate for Thailand, but expressed its concerns over the involvement of several members such as Om Yentieng, the Panel member for Cambodia.  

Om Yentieng has a reputation for being "unfriendly to media and NGOs".  

His attitude was evident when he attacked the report of Yash Ghai, the UN Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the human rights situation in Cambodia, and accused it of being "exaggerated and sensational".  

The Task Force said that civil society has made it clear that the Panel should work in a democratic and inclusive process that includes consultations at national level.  

This view was expressed during consultations that the Task Force organised with several organisations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Burma (Thai-Burma border) in May-June 2008.  

The Task Force also demanded that the Panel ensure that members of the ASEAN Human Rights body, once elected must be independent from states; they must also display a commitment to observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all related international human rights and humanitarian laws.    

"The work of the Panel should be in line with what Dr. Surin Pitsuwan has mentioned: that they should operate under the principle of rule of law and governance and must reflect the people's aspiration, expectation and dreams.  "

The Panel should ensure that their work be truly be in line with the goal of ASEAN which is to make this inter-governmental body a truly 'people's centred ASEAN', concluded Djamin.