2013 Jan 31
January 31, 2013

ASEAN must address HR violations

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THE protection of ASEAN’s ethnic and religious minorities must be “seriously addressed”, despite the bloc’s policy of non-interference in member states’ internal affairs, a representative from a regional human rights body said.

As Brunei chairs a five-day meeting in the capital for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), Indonesia’s representative Rafendi Djamin said the body must adequately address human rights violations.

“Protection of religious and ethnic minorities has to be seriously discussed within the AICHR, no matter how sensitive the issue is,” he said, referring to the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

“When matters implicate several member states, this is when a regional approach is needed to address the challenges. That’s my personal position no matter how sensitive it is you have to discuss these matters,” Rafendi told The Brunei Times in an interview yesterday.

Established at a meeting between the 10 ASEAN leaders in October 2009, the AICHR was set up as a consultative body to promote regional co-operation on human rights. But human rights groups have characterised the AICHR as toothless and lacking the authority to investigate cases or prosecute human rights offenders.

Rafendi acknowledged that some clauses contained within the ASEAN Human Rights declaration “can be interpreted as a limitation of human rights” and that the commission was in the process of drafting “more binding” human rights laws.

“ASEAN cannot talk anymore that our human rights are only related to women and children’s rights. It’s very important that we have a very comprehensive standard of human rights stipulated in the declaration,” he said. “We have to make these accepted norms within our society.”

He added that the AICHR needed to engage more with civil society groups. “The level of discussion on human rights needs improvement; engaging more stakeholders civil society, experts, NGOs on human rights violations,” Rafendi said.

“There’s a lot to be improved, definitely. It’s not so fast but moving in the right direction.”

As Brunei takes the helm of ASEAN, Rafendi said he expected the country to deliver on a successful year for the body.

“Under the leadership of chair Brunei, I have a lot of expectations in terms of the delivery of the AICHR as a body for ASEAN and the people of ASEAN, bearing in mind the power and mandate that it has.”

Brunei has stated that carrying out AICHR’s activities will be a key priority under its stewardship.

Representatives from each ASEAN country met with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah on Tuesday. Brunei’s representative to the AICHR is former minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Ahmad Hj Jumat.

“We’re happy that we met with him (Prince Mohamed, the chair of the AMM (ASEAN Ministerial Meeting). It’s a very good sign that Brunei sees the importance of the AICHR as a new body.”

“Human rights in this region can be a very sensitive issue. During the luncheon with the minister we were able to have an informal discussion about issues within ASEAN.” –Quratul-Ain Bandial, BRUNEI-MUARA, The Brunei Times