On 20 November the leaders of ASEAN’s ten member countries signed a landmark Charter that will establish a dedicated ASEAN human rights body.
The Charter, which incorporates ASEAN as a legal body similar to the European Union, includes a strong commitment to international human rights and humanitarian principles.
The United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights and Refugees, along with groups that have been advocating for a regional human rights body, welcomed the outcome.
“An ASEAN human rights body will hopefully assist ASEAN member states in dealing with common and transnational human rights and protection challenges, such as migration, forcible displacement and trafficking, as well as provide individuals in ASEAN countries with new channels for redress,” the High Commissioners said.
While the terms of reference for the new human rights body are still to be determined, concern has been expressed that the new body will not be given the power to enforce human rights standards.
NGOs point to the importance the Charter places on principles of non-interference and decision by consensus as impediments to the establishment of a strong and robust human rights watchdog. Read the perspective of Forum Asia.
It will be another year before the Charter is finally ratified, as each nation is required to put it before their legislative bodies for approval.
The ten ASEAN members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Of this group, only four countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines – have established national human rights institutions.
In June 2007 the four national human rights institutions signed a Declaration of Cooperation, in which they agreed to work together on five areas of shared concern:
- suppression of terrorism while respecting human rights
- people trafficking
- protection of the human rights of migrants and migrant workers
- implementing of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development
- human rights education.
The four institutions also agreed to work together to promote the establishment of an effective ASEAN human rights mechanism and to encourage other ASEAN governments to establish national human rights institutions.
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