Human rights groups have expressed concerns over the drafting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) led by the grouping’s Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

The rights groups, grouped under the umbrella organization the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), said that the process lacked transparency and had ignored activists’ voices.

HRWG activist Yuyun Wahyuningrum said that the AICHR had appeared to be secretive in its work and turned down requests from civil society organizations to disclose the latest progress in its work.

“We have grown suspicious as to what provisions will be put in the draft. They should have involved civil society and engaged in open discussion with human rights groups,” Yuyun said in a discussion with The Jakarta Post over the weekend.

“It’s too bad that they closed access to information regarding the draft, because the AHRD is so important as it will affect millions of people in the Southeast Asia region,” she added.

About a year after it was established in October 2009, the AICHR, which is responsible for formulating the AHRD draft, began the process of putting together the draft.

According to Yuyun, the AICHR had finalized the AHRD draft and was set to deliver it before ASEAN foreign ministers during the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 8.

In November, ASEAN Foreign Ministers are expected to endorse the AHRD draft before it is signed by ASEAN state leaders later that month at the ASEAN Summit also in Phnom Penh.

Prior to the AMM, AICHR members will have their seventh meeting on the AHRD in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on June 22-23.

“The agenda of the meeting will include a consultation with civil society. We will have another shot there to urge them to share the draft with us so we can provide our input to it,” Yuyun said.

She said that civil society organizations needed to participate in the deliberation before it was too late.

“They need to give us access to the draft and involve all relevant stakeholders as soon as possible because the chance of revising it will be slim after the upcoming AMM,” she added.

Yuyun said that she learned that there were tensions in the drafting of the document because individual states were looking after their
own interests.

“Some countries may have foreseen that this AHRD would threaten the interests of some countries. Vietnam, for example, may think that the declaration could promote the interests of the West and jeopardize its version of Communism,”
Yuyun said.

She also learned that the provision on forced disappearance would likely be left out of the final draft.

“Malaysia has its Internal Security Acts [ISA] which may provide legal basis for the authorities to arrest without trials those considered a danger to national security. Singapore as well as Brunei Darussalam also have their own forms of ISAs,” Yuyun said.

The Indonesian representative to the AICHR, Rafendi Djamin, did not return calls from the Post when contacted on Sunday.

Earlier, Rafendi had said that he would ensure the international consensus regarding human rights would be adopted in the draft.

“There were indeed attempts to undermine the standardized principle of international human rights,” Rafendi said. –Bagus BT Saragih, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta