Civil society groups in Southeast Asia have urged the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to be transparent in drafting the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

They have accused the AICHR of not being transparent, as it had not involved civil society during the drafting process since earlier this year and had hampered access to information related to the draft.

The coordinator of the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA-TFAHR), Haris Azhar, said the commission had failed to involve related stakeholders in human rights, an issue that had broad impacts on people in Southeast Asian countries.

“The commission didn’t even involve human rights commissions in ASEAN countries, and the drafting process will be over next month,” said Haris at the close of the fourth regional consultation on ASEAN and human rights on Tuesday.

“We urge the AICHR to be transparent and accountable. It should provide access to the public to give comments and inputs on the draft declaration,” he said.

The executive director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Yap Swee Seng, said the NGOs regretted that the commission had made it difficult for them to get a copy of the draft and the terms of reference.

“We want to call on AICHR to be more transparent and accountable. Civil society is very important in drafting the human rights declaration, which is really important for ASEAN civil society. Without public consultation, this is very dangerous,” Yap said.

Yap said he feared that the declaration would neglect the cultural values of ASEAN people, which in turn could threaten the rights of indigenous people in the region.

Kunthea Chan from Cambodia’s Silaka women’s organization said she was worried that the declaration would not accommodate the rights of women and children.

“We are not just feminist and activists but are stakeholders of ASEAN. We have to critically engage with the process, especially as ASEAN is increasingly become a part of our daily lives. There is no way we could do this if ASEAN only wants to hear good things,” said Chan.

Rukka Sombolinggi of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago commented that the drafting process of the declaration violated human rights. “We fear that the declaration would give a way to human rights offenders to get impunity,” Rukka said. –Ni Komang Erviani, The Jakarta Post,