Thai civil society organisations have failed in a last-ditch effort to derail the ratification of the Asean Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) at the 21st Asean Summit, to be held in Phnom Penh next month.
Chalida Tajaroensak of the People’s Empowerment Foundation led a group of civil society members to the Foreign Ministry to express their concerns over the “low standard” of the draft declaration. They pushed for a postponement of its adoption.
“We would like to see if Thailand could make a separate or additional statement to either pledge for a higher standard of rights promotion and protection, and/or call for member countries to review their internal laws to ensure concrete effectiveness of the AHRD,” Ms Chalida said in a Thursday meeting with the Foreign Ministry’s Asean Department head, Arthayudh Srisamoot.
Mr Arthayudh said none of the Asean foreign ministers had expressed concerns about the AHRD during their recent meeting in New York, though he said the Thai minister had suggested senior officials could “look into” the draft again if the ministers wished to do so.
“The declaration will be adopted, but whether any signature upon the declaration will be required and by whom is not yet known,” Mr Arthayudh told the 20-member civil society delegation, which comprised lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups, community radio groups, refugee and stateless groups, Muslim students and members of the International Commission of Jurists.
He said members of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights had worked tirelessly throughout the year to finalise the draft, adding that the Thai commissioner has asked domestic NGOs for input.
“Thailand has told the Asean ministers that if there is any chance of future amendment, we will support discussion at the first possible occasion. But the overall momentum is for the [declaration’s] adoption,” Mr Arthayudh said.
“Asean members are worried that if negotiations were to reopen, the adoption could not be made in time for the scheduled Phnom Penh summit in the middle of next month.”
Veerawit Tianchainan, executive director of the Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation, said that despite claiming to be people-centred, Asean leaders rarely engaged in meaningful public participation when formulating policy.
“Thailand should provide further room for discussion and set a precedent of engaging with people,” Mr Veerawit said. He also expressed concern that some 2 million stateless people in the Asean region would not be protected under the “lopsided state-security-oriented” human rights declaration.
Pongthorn Chanlearn, from the Chiang Mai-based Sexual Diversity Network, said the AHRD had a limited vision and did not reflect changing regional attitudes towards marriage and family planning.
“Rights to marriage should be recognised for those other than the conventionally defined male-female relationship. The LGBT group should not be excluded from the AHRD,” Mr Pongthorn said.
In a separate development, Asean civil society organisations were comparing notes about the alternative people-drafted declaration which they plan to issue in parallel with the government-sponsored draft, according to Suntree Saeng-ging, chairwoman of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development.
Ms Suntree said the controversial AHRD would also be discussed at the Asean People Forum, which will be held prior to the 21st Asean Summit.
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