Despite appreciation for its efforts during its first three years, civil society groups in ASEAN urge the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to strengthen its role and evolve into a credible, independent, responsive and accessible regional human rights body.

The recommendation was issued at the second Workshop on the strengthening of ASEAN human rights systems in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, AICHR’s three-year anniversary.

During the two-day workshop, civil society groups from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam gathered to exchange experiences and advocacy approaches to improve the promotion and protection of human rights.

The workshop was organized by Indonesia’s Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, and Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association.

“We urge AICHR to be more open, inclusive, participatory and transparent in its ways of working, decision-making and procedures, including agenda-setting, planning and other relevant deliberations,” the groups said.

AICHR should also ensure that its activities, decisions and plans of action are available to the general public to generate awareness and support.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum of the HRWG, an umbrella organization for dozens of Indonesian human rights NGOs, underlined that there was a lot of work for AICHR to do.

“AICHR must assert its independence. At least in the recruitment process where most member states prefer appointment rather than open recruitment,” Yuyun told The Jakarta Post through an email.

The first term of AICHR representatives ends soon. Indonesia is selecting a new representative and will announce the result at the end of this month. The two candidates are AICHR incumbent Rafendi Djamin and noted lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis.

Yuyun urged other ASEAN member-states, especially Malaysia, the Philippines and Myanmar which already have national human right institutions, to follow Indonesia and Thailand which have an open selection process.

AICHR was established in 2009 at the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Hua Hin, Thailand. One of its key mandates was to prepare a draft human rights declaration. After a long process, AICHR has finalized the draft to be approved at the ASEAN Summit in November.

The declaration will be one of the most important documents drafted since the adoption of the ASEAN Charter in 2007. However, the drafting process has been criticized for its lack of public participation, particularly by civil society organizations, who have been eager to participate from the beginning.

“We commend the initiative of drafting the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration [AHRD] as an important milestone of human rights standards in the region. However, we condemn the adoption of the draft of AHRD as its contents are lower than international standards, including the provisions on balancing of rights and responsibilities, limitation of rights, national and regional particularities, public morality and the non-recognition of rights in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, and indigenous people,” the groups said in its recommendation. –Yohanna Ririhena, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta