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Civil society organisations meet ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, call for universal standards to be upheld

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(Kuala Lumpur, 22 June 2012): Representatives of Civil society organisations (CSOs) have today met the AICHR for the first time for a consultation on the drafting of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. The organisations have welcomed the Consultation as a positive step in the right direction. They also welcome the constructive and friendly atmosphere in which the Consultation was held, and the openness of AICHR representatives to the comments and suggestions by CSO representatives.

We nevertheless regret that the Consultation was short, late, without a draft to comment on and with civil society only partially represented and some organizations rejected. The organisations urged the AICHR to ensure that the Declaration provides at least the same level of human rights protections as that enshrined in universal human rights standards.

Representatives of the 48 CSOs who had participated in the Fifth Regional Consultation on ASEAN and Human Rights submitted a detailed joint statement with specific recommendations on a large variety of issues and rights. These recommendations were both provided in writing and conveyed verbally during today’s Consultation. During the meeting, several AICHR representatives expressed their appreciation of the submission.

The organisations reiterated their concern over the procedural issues that have plagued the drafting process:

  • CSOs in most member states, especially grassroots organisations, have been sidelined from the process, as their AICHR representatives did not hold national-level consultations. However, we commend those national AICHR representatives who have held largely informal consultations with CSOs at the national level;
  • There has been no comprehensive, meaningful, institutionalised consultation at the regional level with CSOs to this point. With the present Consultation coming so close to the scheduled submission of the draft AHRD to the ASEAN Ministers’ Meeting, it will only partially mitigate this problem, unless time and space are allocated for further consultations;
  • It is unfortunate that no drafts or summaries of deliberations have been issued by AICHR. At this stage of the process, where AICHR is discussing the actual wording of each provision, this seriously hampers CSOs ability to contribute to the process in a meaningful way.

Our procedural concerns were compounded by the lack of transparency and organisation of today’s Consultation itself, with some states nominating non-independent organisations and formal invitations being issued very late, resulting in certain CSOs not having time to secure the resources for their participation.

Most worryingly, several national and regional as well as international organisations were barred from participating in the Consultation, the only official explanation provided being that “there was no consensus” over allowing them to participate.

All ASEAN member states have committed, under their Charter, to “promote a people-oriented ASEAN in which all sectors of society are encouraged to participate in, and benefit from, the process of ASEAN integration and community building” We remind those censoring states that “all sectors” means that they cannot pick and choose who they want to talk to. AICHR must accept that dialogue also means exposing it to different views and criticism.

In essence, our substantive message has been, and remains: to ensure that the level of human rights protections in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration does not fall below that of international standards.

This call was echoed on several occasions by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. In a statement last month, Ms Pillay said that “Regional human rights instruments should complement and reinforce international human rights standards.”

During the Consultation, all the AICHR representatives who spoke undertook to ensuring that no lowering of standards occurs in the Declaration. We warmly welcome this commitment. We call on AICHR to ensure this by adopting the strong recommendation in our submission for the inclusion of a specific provision that will guarantee that the Declaration cannot be interpreted as a licence to lower human rights standards, and the formulation contained in the submission.

Moreover, several AICHR representatives emphasised that the Declaration should offer “added value” beyond well-established international instruments. We warmly welcome these remarks and urge AICHR to consider the many recommendations in the CSO submission which provide either for rights that have only been recently elaborated or current formulations of more “traditional” rights. We believe that the incorporation of these recommendations into the Declaration would indeed provide such added value and contributing to the development of international human rights standards.

Among many other recommendations, the submission included:

  • Rejection of any overarching provisions set to limit all the human rights in the Declaration, “balance” them against “responsibilities” or constrain them under “national or regional particularities”;
  • Specific provisions for the human rights of certain groups, including Indigenous Peoples, refugees, women, children, migrant workers and persons with disabilities;
  • Provisions for guarantees of access to justice, effective remedies and substantive equality;
  • A provision ensuring that the principle of non-discrimination is fully inclusive of all types of adverse distinction;
  • A provision setting out duties of states to exercise due diligence against human rights abuses by non-state actors, be they individuals, groups or corporations;
  • Provisions ensuring that economic development and agreements do not come at the expense of human rights, especially of those affected by such development, such as Indigenous Peoples.

We call upon AICHR and the AMM (ASEAN Ministers’ Meeting) that is scheduled to receive the draft Declaration from AICHR in early July to:

  • Seriously consider both our general and our specific concerns and recommendations with a view to incorporating them into the Declaration;
  • Publish the current draft of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and make it widely available throughout the region;
  • Allow more time for further consultations with civil society. These should include national consultations, especially in states which have not had consultations, and regional consultation.

Speaking during the Consultation, the Cambodian representative to AICHR stressed the importance of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration as a document “that will affect the lives of the many millions who live in ASEAN”. We welcome and share this recognition, and hope that AICHR, the AMM and other involved ASEAN authorities live up to the heavy responsibility that this statement places on their shoulders. This they can do by bringing civil society on board through inclusive and transparent procedures, and by producing a Human Rights Declaration worthy of its name and worthy of the ASEAN peoples.

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