The future of human rights in Southeast Asia remains bleak, an official has said, with little progress having been made by ASEAN in applying the Declaration of Human Rights since the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in 2009.

Former Indonesian foreign minister Nur Hassan Wirajuda highlighted the Terms of Reference (TOR) of AICHR, which, he said, had caused progress to be slow.

“The [fourteen] existing mandates [that can be found in the TOR] are weak and unbalanced. For me, [the standard of] AICHR’s TOR is far below international and regional standards,” he said during a recent event in Central Jakarta entitled “Multi-stakeholder Panel on the Future of Human Rights in ASEAN Community: Opportunities and Challenges”.

Hassan argued that the TOR failed to promote the protection of human rights, which explained why several ASEAN members seemed uninterested in furthering democracy.

“We made good progress in Myanmar because it had adopted democracy. But now Myanmar has ‘exported’ its military junta to Bangkok [Thailand’s capital city],” said Hassan, who was foreign minister from August 2001 to October 2009.

He said that he was also disappointed by the fact that after he left the foreign minister’s post, Indonesia did not provide “effective intellectual leadership” to promote human rights in ASEAN.

Before 2009, Indonesia had not only been successful in convincing ASEAN members to develop the ASEAN Human Rights Body, but also in convincing them to make the legal statement official.

However, he continued, Indonesia then failed to encourage other ASEAN members to translate the principles into concrete actions.

“We have a good foundation [the ASEAN charter] to promote human rights, but we have moved very slowly in implementation. That is the challenge faced by ASEAN,” he added.

Meanwhile, The Jakarta Post Editor-in-Chief Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, who also spoke during the 2-hour panel discussion, said ASEAN members had not prioritized human rights in their national agendas.

“It is actually ironic because the challenge to uphold human rights in Southeast Asia is really high, but the opportunity to succeed is quite low,” he said.

Meidyatama added that this ironic truth had emerged because ASEAN did not have a common platform on human rights when it was established on Aug. 8, 1967, unlike the Council of Europe, which formulated the agenda of human rights when it was founded in 1949.

He said that efforts to promote human rights in Southeast Asia required a common struggle involving many parties, from governments to civil society.

“In order to move forward, we, as a region, should also focus on a particular set of priorities that we can apply together,” he said.

However, ASEAN senior advisor Yuyun Wahyuningrum argued that ASEAN had made some progress in furthering human rights, evident in the persistent efforts conducted by ASEAN members to strengthen AICHR.

“The challenge is how to keep strengthening AICHR. Another challenge is to motivate civil society as well as other stakeholders to increase their participation in promoting and struggling for human rights,” Yuyun said. (alz/dic) –The Jakarta Post, Jakarta