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New human rights body snubs NGOs, activists call for transparency and consultations

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Civil society groups who met in Jakarta were rejected by the newly formed Asean Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights. They called for the for Draft Rules of Procedure to be made public and wider consulation with various stakeholders be organised. Please read their press statement inside, issued on 29 March 2010.

Civil society groups who met in Jakarta were rejected by the newly formed Asean Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights. They called for the for Draft Rules of Procedure to be made public and wider consulation with various stakeholders be organised. Please read their press statement below, issued on 29 March 2010.

Civil Society Condemns
AICHR for Refusing to Meet, Calls for Draft Rules of Procedure to be
Made Public and Hold Wider Consultation

Today at Jakarta, the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission for Human Rights
(AICHR) rejected the request of civil society
organisations from the Solidarity for Asian Peoples Advocacy Taskforce
on ASEAN Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR) to meet
with them. The purpose of the requested meeting was to present the civil
society proposal for the AICHR Rules of Procedures (RoP) as AICHR meets
to draft the RoP. Representatives of civil society organizations from
Cambodia, Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia and Thailand went to the ASEAN
Secretariat to present the civil society proposal but were disappointed
to be informed that the AICHR would not be meeting them.

The SAPA TFAHR sent a letter on 9
March 2010 to the Chair of AICHR, Mr. Do Ngoc Son from Vietnam,
requesting for an official meeting with the AICHR during its first
official meeting. However, until yesterday, the Task Force had yet to
receive any reply from the AICHR.

The decision was relayed by Dr.
Anish Roy from the ASEAN Secretariat to the civil society
representatives, who were waiting at the main entrance of the ASEAN
Secretariat. The Chair of AICHR conveyed that the Commission was not
able to meet with civil society as there was still no clear mechanism
developed on how to engage with external parties. He said the Commission
received many request for meeting, including from international
organizations. The Commission did not respond to these requests and had
not met with any groups. He said the Commission will meet with civil
society in due course once the mechanism of engagement has been
clarified within the Commission.

The civil society delegation is
extremely disappointed with the turn of events and views this as a
beginning of a worrying sign of the rejection of civil society
participation in the AICHR. We condemn the decision of the AICHR that
runs in contradiction with the vision of ASEAN being 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, as stipulated in Article 1.13 of the ASEAN Charter.

We wish to remind the AICHR that
one of its purposes as set out in its own Terms of Reference as
stipulated in Article 1.3 is to contribute to the realisation of the
purposes of ASEAN as set out in the ASEAN Charter, which includes the
promotion of the participation of ASEAN peoples in community building.

"As a human rights institution, the refusal to meet
with civil society is in itself a contradiction of the spirit and
principles of human rights. How can we expect this institution to
promote and protect human rights in future? The AICHR
must take an inclusive and participatory approach especially at these
early stages that would determine how the body will operate,"
said Yap Swee Seng, the co-convener of SAPA TFAHR and the Executive
Director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

"The High Level Panel that drafted the Terms of
reference (ToR) of the AICHR met with civil society and national human
rights institutions three times before they finalized the ToR, I don't
see why the AICHR cannot meet and consult with civil society before they
finalize the RoP. This is definitely a regression in terms of civil
society participation," said Yap.

In light of the developments
today, the SAPA TFAHR calls on AICHR to postpone the adoption of the RoP
to the next meeting in June. The SAPA TFAHR demands for the draft RoP
to be made public. Following which, AICHR must hold consultations with
civil society on national and regional level. The final draft of the RoP
must incorporate the feedback made by civil society during the

Earlier, several non-governmental organizations
from the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma submitted cases of human
rights violations to the AICHR through Dr. Anish Roy and Rafendi Djamin,
the representative of Indonesia to the AICHR. According to Dr. Anish
Roy, the Chair of AICHR again cited that there was no clear mechanism on
how to handle cases submitted to the AICHR and there is a principle on
non-interference in ASEAN, therefore the AICHR would not be able to
receive the cases submitted.

"We stand in solidarity with the
victims of human rights violations from Indonesia and the Philippines
who attempted to submit their cases to the AICHR today. This is an
indication of the people's need for the AICHR to establish mechanisms
that will address human rights violations where domestic legal redress
had failed the victims," said Haris Azhar from KontraS, the other
co-convener of the SAPA TFAHR.

"This is exactly why we are here
to meet with the AICHR and provide our inputs on issues of rules of
procedure such as case handling and engagement with all stakeholders by
the AICHR. It would be too late if the AICHR only consult all
stakeholders after they have clarified the mechanism and finalised them
in the RoP," Haris further added.

Unfortunately, AICHR refused to accept the
submission of cases by CSOs and Victim groups. The ASEAN Secretariat
will keep the submissions and await the AICHR to establish the mechanism
on cases, before the ASEAN Secretariat can handover the submissions to

SAPA TFAHR urges the AICHR to
take into consideration the concerns and recommendations made by civil
society in the proposal of RoP of the SAPA TFAHR. (The Civil Society
Proposal of the Rules of Procedure for the AICHR can be found at
We urge the AICHR that the display of reluctance to meet with civil
society today will not be repeated.

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
organizations 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.

For more information, please contact the following

  1. Mr Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director, Asian Forum
    for Human Rights and Development, handphone no: +66 81 8689178.
  2. Mr. Haris Azhar, Deputy Coordinator, KontraS,
    handphone no: +62 815 13302342.