(Cha-Am, Thailand, 25th October 2009) On the occasion of the inauguration of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), Solidarity for Asian Peoples Advocacy Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TF-AHR), a coalition of more than 70 non-government organisations, reiterates its expectation that the Commission will be accountable, independent and effective in protecting and promoting human rights throughout the region.
While welcoming the open and inclusive selection process in Indonesia and Thailand, SAPA-TF-HR expresses its deep disappointment that the selection process in the rest of member states was exclusively done by government officials and without consultation and participation from civil society.
“We congratulate representatives from the civil society sector. After 43 years of ASEAN, this is a positive development for the Association. We hope that all the representatives will work independently, as representatives of the peoples, not governments. We would like to remind them that they should also work impartially as stated in the terms of reference of the AICHR ”, said Yap Swee Seng, co-convenor of the SAPA TF-AHR and the executive director of the Asian Forum on Human Rights Development (FORUM-ASIA). “Now it is time to act!”, added Yap.
The Thailand focal point of the SAPA TF-AHR, Chalida Tajaroensuk said, “AICHR should prioritise the development of modalities for active protection of human rights, including conducting country visits, handling complaints from individuals and organisations, publishing thematic and annual reports and requiring states to submit periodic reports on their human rights laws, policies and practice”.
Sr. Cressencia Lucero, the Philippines focal point of the SAPA TF-AHR said, “AICHR should address robustly and effectively the cross-border and regional human rights violations in ASEAN, foremost among which is the situation in Burma”.
“AICHR should ensure that its work integrates women’s human rights and that it hears the divers voices of ASEAN including the disadvantaged, the marginalised and the oppressed” said Wathshlah Naidu, the gender focal point of SAPA TF-AHR. Mary Ann Manja Bayang, the focal point for the rights of indigenous peoples said, “We want the AICHR to institutionalise frequent and meaningful dialogue and engagement with civil society and peoples’ organisations in its work. Facilitating an annual CSO Forum with the AICHR is a way to go”.
“SAPA-TFHR will closely monitor the work of the AICHR; it will help the Commission to the extent that it truly promotes and protects human rights, and will criticise it whenever it strays from this mandate”, added Haris Azhar, the current co-convenor of the SAPA TF-AHR.
The ASEAN Charter, Article 14 provides the ASEAN leaders a mandate to establish a human rights body as one of the mechanisms for ASEAN members to “pursue closer interaction and cooperation to forge shared norms and create common mechanisms to achieve ASEAN’s goals and objectives in the political and security fields” (ASEAN Political-Security Community Blue Print, para.7).
The adoption of the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) on 20 July during the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Phuket, Thailand, and followed by the inauguration of the body in the coming 15th ASEAN Summit in Hua-Hin, Thailand, on 23-25 October 2009 will bring ASEAN to higher plane in regard to development of human rights region.
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 civil society organisations which aims to a) hold ASEAN member states accountable to their international and domestic human rights obligations, and b) make the ASEAN human rights mechanisms more accountable and effective. Early in 2009, the SAPA TF-AHR launched the campaign on “we want ASEAN human rights commission with teeth!: accountable, effective and independent”.