AICHR’s Consultation on ASEAN Human Rights Declaration: Too Little Too Late
(16 April 2012, Bangkok) The ASEAN human rights Commission appears to plan a one-off, token “consultation” with civil society, and only after it will have finalized, most if not all, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration – this is outrageous and utterly unacceptable, said the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR), a coalition of non-governmental organizations in Southeast Asia.
On 12 April, The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) announced that it will hold one consultation with civil society organizations on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) in late June. The AHRD is scheduled to be submitted to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in early July.
“On the theoretical level, we welcome the AICHR responding positively to the calls of civil society to have consultations on the AHRD. However, we are appalled that the AICHR hopes to finalize such an important regional document, that is supposed to enshrine the rights of the peoples in the region, by holding merely one consultation with civil society at this late hour,” said Haris Azhar, the coordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence of Indonesia (KontraS) and co-convenor of the SAPA TFAHR.
Prior to the 4th meeting of the AICHR on April 9-11 in Jakarta, 136 civil society organizations released a joint statement calling for the immediate release of the draft AHRD and consultations with civil society.
Azhar said the plan of the AICHR to hold the consultation weeks before the submission of the draft AHRD to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting provides no guarantee for the input from civil society to be considered in the text. “Rather than engage meaningfully with civil society on such a crucial issue, it appears that the AICHR prefers to engage in a symbolic, “box-ticking” exercise so it can then claim to have consulted civil society.”
“The timing of the consultation with civil society indicates how the AICHR gives least priority to hearing and considering the voices of the people,” added Azhar.
Chalida Tajaroensuk, Executive Director of the People’s Empowerment Foundation of Thailand (PEF) said it was disturbing that the AICHR has made no mention about releasing any drafts of AHRD for public consultation in its recent press release. “Will AICHR release now the current draft AHRD immediately for public consultation, since there is little time left before the scheduled submission to the AMM? Will AIHCR provide the draft AHRD to the civil society for comments during its consultation meeting scheduled in late June?”
“There will be no meaningful consultation if the draft is not made available to the public,” said Tajaroensuk.
She further suggested the AICHR to create a website to release the draft AHRD and an email to receive public comments in order to ensure broad public consultation. “This will allow those who cannot attend the consultation in late June to be able to participate in the process.”
The AICHR announced in its press release that it will consult ASEAN sectoral bodies and civil society organizations in two separate meetings, but conspicuously left out the region’s national human rights institutions. There are national human rights commissions in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Burma.
“The AICHR should include national human rights institutions in any consultation process of the AHRD. “It cannot be right that national human rights commissions are being excluded from this important process, especially since half of ASEAN countries have such commission and Cambodia is in discussion of establishing one,” said Nalini Elumalai, the executive director of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM).
“We reiterate our calls to the AICHR to hold broad and meaningful consultations at national and regional level with the draft AHRD made available to the public. Otherwise, the AICHR should postpone its submission of the AHRD to the AMM, now scheduled for July,” said Naly Pilorge, Director of Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO).