ASEAN’s new body must protect and promote human rights

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should ensure that its newly established human rights mechanism has the necessary powers to do its job properly, according to an Amnesty International public statement. The Terms of Reference for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) were formally approved on Monday, at the 42nd meeting of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Phuket, Thailand. The meeting runs from 17-23 July. In Tuesday’s public statement, Amnesty International cautiously welcomed the creation of the AICHR but stressed that the final terms of reference for the AICHR leave much room for improvement. “The establishment of the AICHR is a positive development,” said Donna Guest, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme. “We now urge ASEAN governments to make this a truly independent and robust body with full powers to monitor, investigate and report on the human rights records of all 10 member states. “Key concerns are a lack of a clear protection mandate for the AICHR; lack of binding requirements for independence and expertise of AICHR members; and an emphasis on ‘regional particularities’ and ‘non-interference in the internal affairs’ which could undermine respect for universal human rights standards.” Amnesty International said that the Terms of Reference also allow for decisions by consensus only, which means that each state would be able to reject any criticism of its own human rights record by veto. This could lead either to paralysis or to the adoption of weak positions based on the lowest common denominator. In particular Amnesty International has called for a clear mandate for the ASEAN human rights body to protect as well as promote human rights. “The ASEAN human rights body must be empowered to investigate human rights abuses and be able to receive complaints of abuses,” said Donna Guest. “Without such powers the body will not be able to address serious human rights situations in the region, for example in Myanmar.” Amnesty International urged ASEAN to ensure a transparent mechanism to select independent experts as members to the human rights body. The organization said that it is essential that the membership of the body is reflective of wider civil society. Amnesty International also called on the ASEAN human rights body to uphold all human rights in accordance with universal principles and internationally agreed treaties and standards.