JAKARTA, Indonesia–The newly founded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) cannot intervene and assist the families of the slain journalists in the world-denounced Maguindanao massacre of November 2009.

The AICHR has focused more on the promotion of human rights rather than protecting victims in the region. They will receive thematic reports on human rights issues, but not individual complaints.

“[Investigation of] individual complaints is not part of the power of AICHR. Not yet,” an apologetic Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia ‘s commissioner to the AICHR, explained to Naomi Parcon, wife of slain Koronadal-based journalist Joel Parcon.

Rafendi on Monday morning faced Parcon and other representatives of rights groups, who staged a protest rally at the gate of the ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia. They were calling on the AICHR to assert itself and pressure member countries to ensure justice for human rights victims.

Families of the slain journalists filed in February a petition before the AICHR to assist them in seeking justice and demanding that the Philippine government provide them compensation.

Limited mandate

“I would ask for consideration in behalf of the other victims in the Philippines. All of us almost lost the breadwinner of our families,” Parcon told Rafendi.

Rafendi replied: “With all due respect to your families, of course, if it were up to me, I will take it up immediately. But AICHR is composed of 10 countries. This will have to be discussed, especially how we are going to deal with the complaints. I can only say that I will do my best to really strengthen the position of AICHR–our power and mandate. It will take a bit long time. I’m really sorry about that.”

Similar petitions were filed by various rights groups on Monday. Rafendi said the the petitions have been received by the ASEAN secretariat, but they cannot take any further action.

“The ASEAN Secretariat has taken the responsibility to receive the cases, but there’s no clear date until how long and how to deal with the cases, so we can see this is like a stagnancy of the cases,” lamented Haris Azhar of Jakarta-based NGO Kontras.

The AICHR also failed to act on requests from the other rights groups to involve them in coming up with the AICHR’s Rules of Procedure.

Domestic issue?

Rafendi said a Philippine government official has verbally communicated to the ASEAN human rights body that the Maguindanao massacre is a “domestic issue.”

The families’ lawyer, Harry Roque, said they are going to send the AICHR a formal reply to the Philippine government’s position.

“This is not a domestic issue. We are seeking to make the Philippine government accountable for violating the journalists’ human rights. We cannot settle this in the Philippines because the government has immunity from legal suits. This is why we came here. Only international bodies can have jurisdiction over the government,” Roque told reporters.

Asked by reporters to comment on the Philippine government’s position, Rafendi said: “Human rights is a universal issue.”

Forum Asia executive director Yap Swee Seng lamented how the ASEAN’s new human rights body is making itself “non-relevant.”

The rights groups have idealized the AICHR to be able to conduct public inquiries, to hold on site visits and investigations, and to allow it to engage civil society organizations.

“If they continue to justify not taking up cases on the principle of non-interference, I think this commission will be ineffective and totally non-relevant to the ASEAN peoples who are suffering day to day,” he said.

“We are disappointed with process. I think the justification that they gave us—that they have no mechanism to engage us—is not a reasonable excuse not ot meet with the civil society organizations,” he added.

Nevertheless, Seng said they will continue to monitor the outcome of the meetings and push for their involvement. (abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)