The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) may have entered its fourth year, but its success as a regional human rights body is arguable, due to housekeeping activities and its lack of protection mandates.

AICHR made efforts to set up human rights norms in the region through the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in 2012. However, while the content of the declaration received various responses, one must know that concluding the declaration within a relatively short period — three years — was not an easy task, considering the diversities of ASEAN as a region. Yet, even this could not stop AICHR from coming under fire.

AICHR has recently engaged in different activities that focus on the state of human rights in a particular member state. On June 25, 2013, a human rights dialogue between the government of Indonesia and AICHR was held at ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. This dialogue focused on the human rights issues in Indonesia and the government would use the outcome of the dialogue to improve human rights promotion.

Paragraph 4.10 on the Terms of Reference of AICHR mandates the commission to obtain information from member states on the promotion and protection of human rights. The AICHR’s dialogue with the Indonesian government is, therefore, in line with the spirit of this provision. The only difference is that this dialogue was conducted voluntarily by the Indonesian government.

While AICHR has been criticized for its exclusivity, this kind of activity has proven otherwise. AICHR is able to discuss the human rights situation in a particular member state openly.

The next question is whether AICHR should hold dialogue with individual member state regularly. With the limitation of its mandates, AICHR should consider regular dialogue. Given the universality of human rights, challenges are unavoidable, including ASEAN member states. Therefore, AICHR as a regional human rights body shall play a role in assisting member states to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in their respective countries.

There are several considerations to support this kind of activity. First, by conducting dialogue with member state, AICHR can identify human rights challenges on the ground, which will give valuable information for AICHR to set up strategies in advancing and uphold human rights in the region.

Second, the dialogue proves AICHR implements its role as a consultative body, which allows AICHR to share its views to member states. Since this dialogue is not a trial, there will be no judgment, and the outcome of this activity can be a lesson-learned, provided that AICHR will give input or observations of specific issues.

Third, the dialogue will accelerate confidence building process among member states to share their national practices and experiences: with the common goal to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in the region.

As the ASEAN Community increases links among member states, a human rights dialogue with a member state will enhance the regional human rights situation.

Lastly, this dialogue is fully in compliance with ASEAN’s purposes and principles stipulated in ASEAN Charter. While this dialogue will support realization of the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of purposes of ASEAN, this dialogue also complies with the principle of non-interference because this dialogue is conducted based on country voluntarily.

Of course this dialogue will not resolve all human rights challenges at once, at the very least institutionalizing this activity will help AICHR to enhance its role in the region, and provide an additional mechanism for member states to channel themselves to AICHR as ASEAN human rights body.

After the human rights dialogue with the Indonesian government, many more activities are expected to follow. It is up to AICHR to take this opportunity to be a more effective body in delivering its mandate. As a regional human rights body with the responsibility for the promotion and protection of the rights of more than 500 million people in ASEAN, the expectations of the AICHR will never be quenched.

The human rights dialogue held a week ago is only one aspect of AICHR’s challenges, as the progress of the realization of ASEAN Community 2015 takes place, the people of ASEAN need a stronger and more effective AICHR to overcome challenges.

It is important that AICHR evolves to fit the needs of the people. As a famous Latin proverb goes: “the voice of the people is the voice of God”, but when AICHR accommodates the voice of people, only time will tell.

The writer heads human rights section at Directorate of ASEAN Political Security Cooperation and the Foreign Ministry. The views expressed are his own. –Malvino Aprialdy Mazni, Jakarta Post