Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should make a public commitment to ensure that the forthcoming ASEAN Human Rights Declaration will fully comply with international human rights standards. The foreign ministers are scheduled to meet on July 8, 2012, with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights in Phnom Penh and receive a draft declaration for their consideration.
Human Rights Watch urged ASEAN to immediately release a current draft of the declaration to civil society organizations.
“ASEAN’s self-proclaimed ‘people’s ASEAN’ that values participation was spurned during the drafting of the Human Rights Declaration, which has been kept secret throughout a wholly inadequate consultation process,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “ASEAN ministers should publicly commit to a declaration that won’t undermine international human rights standards in any way.”
In a letter sent on July 8 to the ASEAN foreign ministers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, article 19, International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights, and Dignity International called on the foreign ministers to include a provision explicitly providing that no part of the declaration shall be interpreted or implemented in a manner that is inconsistent with or undermines international human rights standards. The ministers should also remove any reference to “balancing” rights and responsibilities – long a justification to weaken rights protections – and end efforts to limit rights by deferring to national political, economic, or social situations.
ASEAN mandated the commission in 2009 to develop a declaration “with a view to establishing a framework for human rights cooperation through various ASEAN conventions and other instruments dealing with human rights.” A drafting committee, with representatives appointed by the commissioners, worked for more than one year but refused to make a copy of the draft declaration public. Only 5 of the 10 commissioners held any sort of national consultation with civil society organizations about the declaration and there was only a single regional consultation, in Kuala Lumpur on June 22. The commission has given no indication of whether any of the inputs from these sessions were incorporated into the draft.
ASEAN should be extending and broadening the consultation process on the declaration. That would require genuine consultations based on a draft declaration that has been made public. A schedule of open national and regional consultations should be held by the commission before the ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Phnom Penh in November.
“The process that the foreign ministers adopt in creating the declaration is a litmus test for ASEAN’s commitment to making the declaration an effective tool for promoting human rights in the region,” Robertson said. “The foreign ministers need to choose: will they prove their critics right by ignoring human rights or will they finally agree to support a rights-respecting regional integration process?”