PHNOM PENH, July 8, 2012 (AFP) — International rights watchdogs on Sunday slammed ASEAN for a lack of consultation on a proposed human rights declaration, warning that commitments could fall below global standards as a result.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups voiced concern in a letter to the 10 foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as they prepared to receive the draft document from the group’s human rights commission on Sunday.
The watchdogs said consultation for the draft human rights declaration was “deeply flawed” and “mainly conducted behind closed doors”.
ASEAN’s Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, established in 2009, is working on the proposed declaration that would serve as a framework for human rights cooperation within the regional bloc.
It is set to be adopted by regional leaders later this year.
But not all ASEAN member states — which are due to start regional meetings in Phnom Penh on Monday — held consultations with civil society groups while others cherry-picked contributors, the rights groups said.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told AFP he wanted foreign ministers to “immediately release” a copy of the draft to the public, noting that a leaked earlier version was “quite worrisome”.
“ASEAN ministers should publicly commit to a declaration that won’t undermine international human rights standards in any way,” Robertson said.
“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.”
ASEAN is comprised of 10 countries with disparate political systems and different levels of economic development, ranging from freewheeling democracies like the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia to the authoritarian regimes of Vietnam and Laos.
Myanmar was formerly under military rule until recently when it embraced the path to democratic reforms.
Human rights has been a sensitive issue for some ASEAN members, with the grouping’s policy of non-interference in members’ internal affairs often preventing the issue from being discussed more thoroughly at annual meetings.
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