On the 29th of March 2010, at Jakarta, the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR) rejected the request of civil society organisations from the Solidarity for Asian Peoples Advocacy Taskforce on ASEAN Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR) to meet with them. The purpose of the requested meeting was to present the civil society proposal for the AICHR Rules of Procedures (RoP) as AICHR meets to draft the RoP.
Representatives of civil society organizations from Cambodia, Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia and Thailand went to the ASEAN Secretariat to present the civil society proposal but were disappointed to be informed that the AICHR would not be meeting them. The SAPA TFAHR sent a letter on 9 March 2010 to the Chair of AICHR, Mr. Do Ngoc Son from Vietnam, requesting for an official meeting with the AICHR during its first official meeting.
However, until yesterday, the Task Force had yet to receive any reply from the AICHR. The decision was relayed by Dr. Anish Roy from the ASEAN Secretariat to the civil society representatives, who were waiting at the main entrance of the ASEAN Secretariat. The Chair of AICHR conveyed that the Commission was not able to meet with civil society as there was still no clear mechanism developed on how to engage with external parties. He said the Commission received many request for meeting, including from international organizations. The Commission did not respond to these requests and had not met with any groups. He said the Commission will meet with civil society in due course once the mechanism of engagement has been clarified within the Commission.
The civil society delegation is extremely disappointed with the turn of events and views this as a beginning of a worrying sign of the rejection of civil society participation in the AICHR. We condemn the decision of the AICHR that runs in contradiction with the vision of ASEAN being a “People Oriented ASEAN” in which all sectors of society are encouraged to participate in, and benefit from, the process of ASEAN integration and community building, as stipulated in Article 1.13 of the ASEAN Charter. We wish to remind the AICHR that one of its purposes as set out in its own Terms of Reference as stipulated in Article 1.3 is to contribute to the realisation of the purposes of ASEAN as set out in the ASEAN Charter, which includes the promotion of the participation of ASEAN peoples in community building. “As a human rights institution, the refusal to meet with civil society is in itself a contradiction of the spirit and principles of human rights. How can we expect this institution to promote and protect human rights in future? The AICHR must take an inclusive and participatory approach especially at these early stages that would determine how the body will operate,” said Yap Swee Seng, the co-convener of SAPA TFAHR and the Executive Director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development. “The High Level Panel that drafted the Terms of reference (ToR) of the AICHR met with civil society and national human rights institutions three times before they finalized the ToR, I don’t see why the AICHR cannot meet and consult with civil society before they finalize the RoP. This is definitely a regression in terms of civil society participation,” said Yap.
In light of the developments today, the SAPA TFAHR calls on AICHR to postpone the adoption of the RoP to the next meeting in June. The SAPA TFAHR demands for the draft RoP to be made public. Following which, AICHR must hold consultations with civil society on national and regional level. The final draft of the RoP must incorporate the feedback made by civil society during the consultations. Earlier, several non-governmental organizations from the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma submitted cases of human rights violations to the AICHR through Dr. Anish Roy and Rafendi Djamin, the representative of Indonesia to the AICHR.
According to Dr. Anish Roy, the Chair of AICHR again cited that there was no clear mechanism on how to handle cases submitted to the AICHR and there is a principle on non-interference in ASEAN, therefore the AICHR would not be able to receive the cases submitted. “We stand in solidarity with the victims of human rights violations from Indonesia and the Philippines who attempted to submit their cases to the AICHR today. This is an indication of the people’s need for the AICHR to establish mechanisms that will address human rights violations where domestic legal redress had failed the victims,” said Haris Azhar from KontraS, the other co-convener of the SAPA TFAHR. “This is exactly why we are here to meet with the AICHR and provide our inputs on issues of rules of procedure such as case handling and engagement with all stakeholders by the AICHR.
It would be too late if the AICHR only consult all stakeholders after they have clarified the mechanism and finalised them in the RoP,” Haris further added. Unfortunately, AICHR refused to accept the submission of cases by CSOs and Victim groups. The ASEAN Secretariat will keep the submissions and await the AICHR to establish the mechanism on cases, before the ASEAN Secretariat can handover the submissions to AICHR. SAPA TFAHR urges the AICHR to take into consideration the concerns and recommendations made by civil society in the proposal of RoP of the SAPA TFAHR.(The Civil Society Proposal of the Rules of Procedure for the AICHR can be found at www.forum-asia.org)
We urge the AICHR that the display of reluctance to meet with civil society today will not be repeated. 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 more than 70 civil society organizations from the region which aims to hold ASEAN member states accountable to their international and domestic human rights obligations and to make the ASEAN human rights mechanisms independent, credible, accountable and effective. For more information, please contact the following person:
- Mr Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, handphone no: +66 81 8689178.
- Mr. Haris Azhar, Deputy Coordinator, KontraS, handphone no: +62 815 13302342.