Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said on Friday that Indonesia expected to see significant progress in the work of the Asean human rights body during its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year.

“Indonesia hopes that in 2011, the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights will be more effective in fulfilling its mandate, reflecting the commitment of Asean countries to respect human rights,” he said.

The AICHR is Asean’s human rights body. It was inaugurated in 2009 with great fanfare by the regional grouping during Thailand’s chairmanship of Asean.

But rights activists criticized the body as a powerless commission that focused on promoting, rather than protecting, human rights. Critics also pointed out that the body lacked the authority to impose punishments for rights violations.

Atnike Nova Sigiro, from Forum-Asia, a Bangkok-based regional rights watchdog, has urged Indonesia to empower the rights body so that it can operate more effectively.

Atnike said political constraints among member states, including Asean’s often-criticized noninterference policy, and the lack of the necessary resources such as a secretariat and a support staff have hampered the work of the rights commission.

Asean members are also expected to complete the Asean Human Rights Declaration this year.

“Therefore, we strongly urge the Indonesian government to exert its diplomatic influence to ensure that the declaration will finish on time so it can become a sound human rights instrument in the region that is in line with universal values,” Atnike said.

Choirul Anam, from the group Human Rights Watch, said Indonesia could propose to the body to involve civil society groups more regarding issues like the protection of migrant workers.

Marty also brought up the topic on Friday, saying Indonesia will seek to improve protections for migrant workers in the region.

Most of the region’s migrant workers come from Indonesia and the Philippines, with Malaysia and Singapore the main destination countries for the workers.

Marty said another priority was to begin the deliberation of the Global Community of Nations, which will underline Asean’s role in the international community.

That role, he added, “serves as the vanguard for the promotion of democratic values, human rights and tolerance at the global level.”

Indonesia officially took over the Asean chairmanship from Vietnam on Jan. 1.

Indonesia requested the Asean chairmanship this year — which was originally designated for Brunei — at the 16th Asean Summit in April 2009. –Ismira Lutfia ,