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Southeast Asian NGOs give the ASEAN Human Rights Body a failing mark as 17th ASEAN Summit starts

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Bangkok –  Members of the Solidarity for Asian Peoples’ Advocacies (SAPA) Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights, a network of human rights organizations and advocates in Southeast Asia, said the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on the Human Rights (AICHR) was in danger of being dismissed as just a “window dressing for ASEAN’s Commitment to Human Rights” and gave the one-year old human rights body a failing mark.

“Because of its inaction on the increasing and systematic human rights violation in Burma where thousands of people are held in prisons for exercising their political rights I gave AICHR a negative score,” said Cheery Zahau, program coordinator of Human Rights Education Institute of Burma and a member of the SAPA Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights.

The Burmese activist said that they submitted cases of human rights violation in Burma and heard nothing from the ASEAN body. “While I see little hope with AICHR as a body I urge other member-countries of AICHR such as Indonesia and Thailand to help us by conducting public hearings and exacting accountability from the military regime in Rangoon and call for an end to human rights violation in the country,” Zahau said. She was speaking at a press conference to launch a “report card” on the AICHR’s performance in its first year.

Meanwhile, Ms. Atnike Sigiro, ASEAN Advocacy Department Manager for Forum Asia, said that they found fundamental flaws in the core documents of AICHR, namely its Terms of Reference, adding that the human rights body has a defective mandate to start with.

Quoting the statement of the SAPA Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights, she declared “the AICHR has operated within the framework of its flawed founding architecture and has not demonstrated any apparent effort to address or overcome them.” She also noted that the absence of Rules of Procedures (RoP) was being used as an excuse to avoid engagement with external stakeholders such as the National Human Rights institutions and civil society organizations in the region.

Ms. Wanee Bangprapha Thitiprasert of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development lamented the slow pace of the adoption of the RoP as well as the reluctance of the Commission to recognize and engage with civil society stakeholders in the region.

“We call on AICHR to ensure adherence to the principles of human rights for all and accountability to all women and the peoples of Southeast Asia and to ensure meaningful and substantive participation and representation of women in all ASEAN processes and structures,” Ms. Thitiprasert said.

Debbie Stothard of the ALTSEAN Burma said that AICHR’s poor performance reflected most ASEAN government’s stance on human rights and their views on civil society participation.

“During last month’s ASEAN Peoples’ Forum in Hanoi we felt, experienced and saw increased interference and constraints on civil society. There were censorship and intimidation of legitimate civil society actors by government representatives to the Forum,” Ms. Stothard said and added that because of this some Thai NGOs withdrew from the meeting with the Vietnamese Vice Premier at the end of the Forum, which was arranged by the local host.

“All the statements of ASEAN about them being people-oriented are contradictory with the actions of some ASEAN governments,” she said.

Mr. Ryan Silverio of the Southeast Asia Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers agreed with Ms. Stothard and said that the same thing happened during the ASEAN Children’s Forum held in the Philippines earlier this month where most participants were selected by the governments and not selected by the children and young people themselves.

“The ASEAN Children’s Forum was organized in a non-transparent way. Some of the participants were chosen by the ASEAN governments. Participation is a right. The children and the young people should be given the opportunity to identify their own representatives to the Forum and at the same time provide wider opportunities for other children to engage in these formal processes,” Mr. Silverio said. He added that the organizers of the ASEAN Children’s Forum only allowed children and young people involved in the parallel workshop to participate in their cultural night.

A parallel workshop was organized by Southeast Asian child rights organizations last 19 to 22 October 2010 in Manila, Philippines to provide a space for children who are excluded in the official ASEAN Children’s Forum to articulate their concerns and recommendations to ASEAN.

The leaders of the ASEAN member-countries are set to meet in Hanoi on October 28-30, 2010 for the regional grouping’s 17th summit. AICHR, meanwhile, just turned one year old last October 23, 2010.

The “report card” on AICHR is available at The SAPA Taskforce on ASEAN and Human Rights will hold another press conference tomorrow October 28 at 10am, Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. Speakers will present on the topics of environment, freedom of information, trade agreements, indigenous peoples and migrant domestic workers.


For more information please contact:

Ms. Atnike Nova Sigiro, ASEAN Advocacy Programme Manager at +62 81 2940 1766, by email: [email protected]

Mr. Joey Dimaandal, SAPA Working Group on ASEAN,, ++639088730349

Anelyn de Luna, ALTSEAN BURMA, [email protected]; +66814034830