ASEAN Foreign Ministers Must Address Fatal Flaws Before ASEAN Human Rights Body Is Established

Phuket, July 17, 2009

This 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) will be a milestone for the development of human rights in the region and community building in ASEAN. After 12 months of hard work, the High Level Panel (HLP), the team that was tasked to draft the Terms of Reference (TOR) on the establishment of the ASEAN human rights body (AHRB) will have their meeting tomorrow (18 July 2009) and will submit the draft to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers on the day after.

Civil society calls upon ASEAN Foreign Ministers to adopt a TOR on AHRB that is up to international human rights standards and on par with other regional human rights mechanism such as those in Europe, Inter-America and Africa. The TOR should include the very essence and bare minimum international standards of a regional human rights protection mechanism: the protection mandate and the independence of the body. Unfortunately, these two elements have been missing in the TOR. Ignoring these flaws will leave the people of ASEAN more defenseless in the face of already existing and widespread human rights violations.

We, civil society organizations from around Southeast Asia, are gravely concerned that, unless rectified, the current TOR of the AHRB will greatly inhibit the security of ASEAN's people as well as the credibility of the regional body. It is for these reasons that we take this opportunity, at the very start, of the 42nd AMM in Phuket, Thailand, to reiterate our recommendations for a strong, credible, and independent ASEAN Human Rights Body. Civil society has been actively involved in every possible well to offer valuable input in the region's future human rights body and we believe the below inputs are a minimal necessity for a credible and effective commission:

1) Explicitly expand the mandate of the AHRB, from one of mere to promotion, to one that will actively protect human rights in Southeast Asia. There needs to be firm mechanisms in place, such as: regular reviews of human rights in each country, on-site visits to investigate reports of violations, and an individual complaint mechanism.

2) Ensure the independence of the AHRB. The human rights body should be assured political and fiscal autonomy. It must be funded realistically and sustainably in such a way that it will be free of pressure and influence from governments.

3) Guarantee that the ultimate composition of the AHRB will be done in a transparent manner and with civil society participation. People nominated, selected, and/or appointed to the AHRB must be assuredly independent, acting on behalf of the peoples of ASEAN rather than on behalf of governments.

ASEAN leaders should utilize the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting to deliver a firm record to the people of this region and the international community that member states do not shirk from their commitments of freedom and human rights found in the ASEAN Charter as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, that they are ready to forge further cooperation with civil society and progress towards a more secure and peaceful region where non-discrimination and equality replace fear and corruption.

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