MANILA, Philippines – A human rights watchdog has urged foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to make a public commitment to ensure that the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration would fully comply with international human rights standards, saying a current draft of the declaration should be immediately released to civil society organizations.

“ASEAN’s self-proclaimed ‘people’s ASEAN’ that values participation was spurned during the drafting of the Human Rights Declaration, which has been kept secret throughout a wholly inadequate consultation process,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement emailed to media. “ASEAN ministers should publicly commit to a declaration that won’t undermine international human rights standards in any way.”

The statement noted that the foreign ministers were scheduled to meet on July 8 with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights in Phnom Penh and receive a draft declaration for their consideration.

The 45th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) was to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from July 8 to July 12.

The statement said that in a letter to the ASEAN foreign ministers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Article 19, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation of Human Rights and Dignity International called for an inclusion of a provision that explicitly provided that no part of the declaration should be interpreted or implemented in a manner that was inconsistent with or undermined international human rights standards.

“The ministers should also remove any reference to ‘balancing’ rights and responsibilities – along a justification to weaken rights protections – and end efforts to limit rights by deferring to national political, economic, or social situations,” the statement added.

HRW said that “genuine consultations based on a draft declaration that has been made public” should be considered by ASEAN to extend and broaden the consultation process on the declaration.

“A schedule of open national and regional consultations should be held by the commission before the ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Phnom Penh in November,” it added.

The ASEAN leaders are expected to adopt the draft Human Rights declaration when they convene in November for the 21st ASEAN Summit.

HRW noted that ASEAN mandated the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights in 2009 to develop a declaration “with a view to establishing a framework for human rights cooperation through various ASEAN conventions and other instruments dealing with human rights.”

It said a drafting committee, with representatives appointed by the commissioners, worked for more than one year but refused to make a copy of the draft declaration public. Only 5 out of the 10 commissioners held any sort of national consultation with civil society organizations, and only a single regional consultation in Kuala Lumpur on June 22 was held, it added. It said the commission has also given no indication of whether any of the inputs from these sessions were incorporated into the draft.

“The process that the foreign ministers adopt in creating the declaration is a litmus test for ASEAN’s commitment to making the declaration an effective tool for promoting human rights in the region,” Robertson said.

“The foreign ministers need to choose: will they prove their critics right by ignoring human rights or will they finally agree to support a rights-respecting regional integration process?,” he added. Fat Reyes,