Human rights advocates are calling on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to release a progress report on its human rights commission, citing the public’s right to know about member countries’ rights records, especially where they have drawn international scrutiny.

Asean said on Monday that members states planned to issue a report on what the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights had accomplished since its creation in 2009. It did not, however, say when the report would be issued.

The rights commission presented its first work report to Asean foreign ministers during their meeting in Bali over the weekend.

“I think it will take some time for the member [states] to feel comfortable about sharing issues that they have discussed because AICHR is still an intergovernmental organization,” Asean’s secretary general, Surin Pitsuwan, said in Jakarta on Monday.

“Some people might have wished for an independent organization or a human rights court to conduct a review, but that’s not what this is.”

In a joint communique released on July 19, the Asean foreign ministers said they “welcomed the progress of the AICHR’s work.”

Atnike Nova Sigiro, from Bangkok-based rights group Forum-Asia, criticized the attitude of Surin. She said the rights body, which was inaugurated with great fanfare, could not work for the convenience of the Asean member states’ governments.

“Asean has to make the rights body’s report available to the public if they are serious about becoming a people-oriented community,” Atnike said.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, a senior adviser at Asean’s Human Rights Working Group, agreed with Atnike. She added that a provision in the rights body’s terms of reference stated that the AICHR has the obligation to provide periodic public updates on its activities.

“If Asean is serious about building a regional community, it needs to be ready to open itself up to a dialogue with its people. How can it build a community if it shies away from public dialogue?” Yuyun said.

“Asean has to implement what they have agreed to or they will lose credibility and relevance.”

Surin said, without offering names, that some member states had asked for more emphasis on human rights protections and mitigating human rights violations within the association. He said, however, that the rights group was “not there yet.”

The rights body, he said, is still in its formative years and that for the first five years, it would concentrate on the promotion and protection of human rights in the region.

He argued that it is “a very important institution” and that the region had made progress by establishing not only the AICHR but also the Asean Commission on the Promotion and Protection for the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). He insisted, however, that public discussion would only come later.

“I am sure that as we go on, a lot of the discussions will be transparent, open and shared with the public, but that should not keep the people, civil societies, media and critics from continuing to be proactive about promoting human rights in Asean,” Surin said. –Ismira Lutfia, Jakarta Globe