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ASEAN’s Political Declaration: Wanted – full fledged regional human rights mechanism!

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asean hrb.jpgAsian civil groups have called on ASEAN to commit to a regional human rights
mechanism that includes a regional human rights court.

asean hrb.jpg(Bangkok/Jakarta, 25 August 2009)
Asian civil groups have called on ASEAN to commit to a regional human rights
mechanism that includes a regional human rights court.

In their Political Declaration to the Terms of Reference of the ASEAN
Inter-Governmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR), the group led by
Solidarity for Asian Peoples Advocacy Taskforce on ASEAN human rights urged
ASEAN to openly pledge that it is committed to develop protection mandates for
the Commission.

These protection mandates, according to SAPA-TFAHR is sorely lacking in the
adopted official TOR of the AICHR. They include complaint mechanisms, country
visit and periodic review of human rights situations.

In an open letter addressed to the ASEAN chair and High Level Panel (HLP)
today, SAPA TFAHR said that the development of a full fledged regional human
rights mechanism, including conventions, commissions and a human rights court,
should be in line with international standards and should not take more than 10
years to establish.

"The Political Declaration must recognise that the lack of independence
and protection mandates in the AICHR are some of the biggest flaws in the TOR.
As a long term guiding document for the AICHR, it must set a direction for the
Commission to be independent and have protection mandates which will  eventually establish a full fledged regional
human rights mechanism, complete with conventions, commissions and a human
rights court that are in line with international standards in a reasonable time
frame", said Yap Swee Seng, executive director of Asian Forum for Human
Rights and Development, based in Bangkok.

The operation of the AICHR, added SAPA-TFAHR should be
guided by the principles of non-discrimination, equality, accountability, transparency
and participation.

"We are however extremely concerned with this talk of an
'evolutionary approach' by ASEAN. There are existing international human rights
standards. We have to start from there – nothing below those standards is
acceptable. Evolution to develop protection mandates and a full fledged human
rights mechanism, may take 100 years, or may only need 10 years, or shorter. We
are saying let's set a time frame, the sooner the better, but should not be
more than 10 years," said Rafendi Djamin, the co-convener of the SAPA-TFAHR who
co-signed the open letter to the HLP with Yap.

The HLP was tasked by ASEAN Foreign Ministers to draft the
Political Declaration after the official adoption of the TOR of AICHR on 20
July 2009 during the 42nd ASEAN Ministers Meeting (AMM) in Phuket, Thailand. The
announcement of this Political Declaration together with the names of the
appointed representatives to the AICHR is expected to be inaugurated during the
15th ASEAN Summit on 23-25 October 2009 in Hua-Hin, Thailand.

Rafendi Djamin said that the launch of the AICHR could mark
a turning point for human rights in ASEAN and the region as a whole. He urged ASEAN
to take this opportunity to right the wrongs in the TOR of AICHR.

"The AICHR should not be remembered as a hollow gesture
which fails to address serious human rights violations throughout the region,
making ASEAN an association whose words are not matched by deeds", added Rafendi.

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 more
than 70 civil society organisations from the region which aims to hold ASEAN
member states accountable to their international and domestic human rights
obligations and to make the ASEAN human rights mechanisms independent, credible,
accountable and effective.

Also related:
28 August Letter
to the Chairperson of ASEAN on the national process of selecting
representatives of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human
Rights (AICHR)