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Main » 2013 » March » 30 » ASEAN can benefit from independent human rights
7:37 AM
ASEAN can benefit from independent human rights
Onews,-- ASEAN's human rights body needs more independence from governments in order to be an effective organisation that can improve the welfare of its citizens, said regional activists, who criticised governments for lacking the political will to ensure universal freedoms and basic rights for their people.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, a senior advisor on ASEAN and human rights at Human Rights Working Group Indonesia's NGO coalition for international human rights advocacy said ASEAN always subscribes to the "lowest common denominator" when it comes to forging an agreement on fundamental rights such as freedom of speech or religion.

"ASEAN always brings cultural relativism to the issue of human rights because at some point some countries in ASEAN do not necessarily fit with what the West defines as universal human rights," she told The Brunei Times.

"The universality of human rights continue to be the challenge for ASEAN."

Last November, ASEAN countries endorsed a controversial human rights declaration, hailing it as a landmark accord to help protect some 600 million people. But critics said it had left too many loopholes for ASEAN, which groups a diverse range of political systems ranging from authoritarian regimes to democracies.

The bloc's human rights body the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) has also been dismissed as "toothless', lacking the authority to investigate cases or prosecute human rights offenders.

Atnike Nova Sigiro, ASEAN Advocacy Programme Manager at the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), said at some point the commission will have to be given powers to investigate human rights violations.

"Why would we establish the AICHR if they cannot do anything? I can understand that is a very sensitive issue for ASEAN member states but other human rights bodies in Africa or Americas usually have a mandate to investigate.

Not necessarily to establish a court but to have authority to investigate the matter is very common."

She added that AICHR's terms of reference will be up for review in 2014 and the body should be given more independence and a stronger mandate to address issues such as conflict, refugees, and access to basic needs.

The body has been notably silent on the humanitarian situation in Myanmar and Sabah, with thousands of people displaced by conflict.

"If they have to go through the political process to take action or make comments - it will take too long because they have to get approval or permission from their respective governments," Atnike said.

"Of course we cannot imagine such a radical mandate will exist very soon. Hopefully with the criticisms given by civil society, governments will hear some of the input and improve the mandate of the AICHR to protect and not just promote human rights."

Yuyun agreed that AICHR needed a stronger mechanism to address human rights issues.

"Civil society organisations have submitted a lot of (human rights abuse) cases. The fact that AICHR cannot react to that, cannot make an investigation to an issue submitted to them makes it weak."

She said even though some Southeast Asian countries do have political will to improve human rights in the region, they are often hindered by ASEAN's policies of consensus-based decision making and non-interference in member states' internal affairs.

"The way I see AICHR is not only has the body been weakened by design but there has been a lot of fences put up. So that's very difficult. I think some of the commissioners in AICHR have been very frustrated."

The activist said it took ASEAN more than five years to draw up an agreement to protect migrant workers a lengthy process that illustrates the difficulty in getting member countries to commit, even to non-binding pacts.

The United States one of ASEAN's dialogue partners recently said human rights in Southeast Asia was stagnating, pointing to a lack of progress in many places and a worsening situation in some.

"Human rights is one of the more difficult issues we raise with our partners, but we must raise them," Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs Joseph Yun told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee.

"While the substance of declaration on human rights is not what we would wish, I would say that Southeast Asians doing it is an important fact," Yun insisted. "They have never agreed among all of them... whether they ought to have common human rights goals."

Rafendi Djamin, a veteran rights activist and Indonesia's representative to AICHR, acknowledged that some clauses contained within the declaration could be interpreted as a limitation of human rights and that the commission was in the process of drafting "more binding" legal instruments.


Category: Human Rights News | Views: 591 | Added by: Admin | Tags: Human Rights, ASEAN | Rating: 0.0/0
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