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Sunday, 29 June 2014


AICHR members together with Asean CSOs at the Bangkok Review Meeting (2014)
By Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, Proham & KITA-UKM Malaysia

During the recent Asean Inter-governmental Human Rights Commission (AICHR), Terms of Reference (TOR) review meeting at Bangkok from June 27 & 28, 2014 I had four opportunities to briefing intervene on matters pertaining to the AICHR TOR.
I was invited in my capacity as Secretary General of Proham and also in my capacity at KITA-UKM. I had to raise my own flights and cover the cost of the accommodation while in Bangkok. It was a very good meeting and felt that AICHR was very open to suggestions and the Review process ensured that all stakeholders were important partners of the review process.

This is indeed commendable and inspiring. It is promising for what can be achieved in the process. The system of seating arrangements and movements over the two days is also indicative of the partnership approach adopted by AICR. This is an approach that must be adopted by all Asean governments to ensure constructive discussion and input.
Civil society and academics participated within the constraints of time. This review was unique as there were representatives from AICHR, International and regional bodies associated with the UN as well as regional and national civil society organisations represented. There were a number of academics from Asean countries especially Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand

I had four such opportunities to intervene ie between 1 minute and five minutes. It is unbelievable what you can pack in within 1 or 2 minutes. This granting of the space for interaction and sharing of ideas is much appreciated in seeking a human rights friendly ASEAN especially with our vision in building a One Asean community by 2015

A number of Asean countries have not ratified the core human rights conventions and while they have jointly set up AICHR a dominant discourse relates to Asean values. Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Myanmar keep reminding the rest of this theme. In addition the principle of non-interference is another hindrance for the protection of human rights in Asean. It seems to make AICHR powerless and voiceless on critical human rights violations in Asean.

While Malaysia has held firmly to Asean non-interference however on a number of cases Malaysia has creatively responded to areas of violations within Asean as in the case of the Rohingya situation in Myanmar or on matters affecting Muslim minorities in both South Thailand and Minadano. Why not make this more transparent within the TOR as is in the case of the UPR process at the UN or convention obligations.
How can we make the TOR more specific and consistent with the UDHR and remove from within the TOR reference to contextual matters which might condone some aspects of human rights violations. These provisions are read is a very restrictive way. However can the TOR be more compliant to UDHR and UN conventions & declaration pertaining to human rights? How can we ensure Asean leaders do not cover up human rights violations under the veil of Asean values and cultural specific

Session 2         AICHR & National Human Rights Institutions
When I served on the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) we received a complaint from an Indonesian NGO on human rights violations committed by a Malaysian plantation company which owed a plantation in Indonesia. I think the Indonesian side could not do anything as it was a foreign company and the Malaysian side was restricted in its investigations by geographical location, being located outside Malaysian shores.

This kind of violations could increase within Asean as many companies are now cross border business. Individual NHRI might not be able to investigate and make appropriate recommendations for action but these are the kind of complains that AICHR could undertake with the support and assistance of both the Human rights commissions.
The TOR 4:8, 4:9 and 4:10 could be read in a way to facilitate this process mentioned. The TOR could be redrafted to give provisions for this intervention at the Asean region especially when human rights matters cut across nations within Asean as illustrated in the Indonesian-Malaysia business & human rights violations.

Session 3         AICHR & CSO
Let me make reference to some ways in which AICHR representative could play an active role at the National levels especially in the countries they represent. They could enlist CSOs at the national level including academics and the NHRI. They could develop a directory which could then be complied across Asean of human rights CSOs as well as best pratices.

In the Malaysian context, Proham hosted a discussion on the Asean human rights declaration when it was in the final stages and the Malaysian representative was the chief guest. This coming July 2 and 3, 2014 Proham together with the Global Movement of Moderates is inviting the AICHR Indonesian representative and the Malaysian represntative to address the theme of Religious Freedom in the Asean region especially a set of guidelines prepared by the Indonesian CSO- HRWG. These are some examples on how AICHR can raise its profile at the national level and also encourage cooperation among AICHR partners.
On the question of AICHR as an extension of Asean governments and that the representatives are first representatives of their government as AICHR is an Inter-governmental human rights commission, there might be some need to review the TOR on this matter especially 5.2 which notes accountable to appointing governments and 5:7 which reads “impartially”. In this context too the Asean Foreign Ministers so as not to undermine the independence of AICHR

 While AICHR representatives are appointed by their governments through some selection and impartial process, they must be people with a good experiences & expertise in human rights matters. human rights maOnce appointed AICHR representatives must be pro human rights working from within the Asean TOR, Asean Human Rights Declaration & UDHR. They must not just be an extension of their Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Paris principles which are applied to NHRI could be the benchmark for AICHR and the Asean states must observe this principle. This principle should be drafted into the AICHR TOR.

Session 4         AICHR & FUTURE
My recommendation is specific to how AICHR representatives could take up a thematic area and even set up working committee or focus groups. AICHR could interpret TOR provisions such as 4:8, 4:9 and even 4:12 to empowerment to take up thematic Asean regional concerns.

AICHR could invite representatives from NHRI and CSO to join in, including academics researching in these areas. Ten themes could be adopted let me highlight four cross cutting regional themes.
First, the theme of religious freedom, we are facing many issues such as majority religions verses minorities in many countries such as Buddhist majority and issues with minorities as in Myanmar among the Rohingyas’ or religious freedom issues in Malaysia such as shariah and civil court jurisdiction concerns.

Second, the issues pertaining to migrant workers especially between sending and receiving Asean countries and issues affecting the rights of workers and their families
Third, issues pertaining to human tariffing and both Malaysian and Thailand have been downgraded by the United States on this matter recently. AICHR could assist or work together with Asean member states to ensure this is reduced in the Asean region

Fourth, issues pertaining to forest based communities and indigenous people group within the Asean region. There are similar issues across Asean especially pertaining to sustainable forest management and this has many cross cutting issues pertaining to business, human rights, sustainable development & environment.
There are many other issues and concerns. Therefore AICHR representative can each take up a regional concern and establish creatively focus groups which can also undertake site visits and report writing. I am sure some of the CSOs and academic institutions could raise some funds to cover the core cost for an Asean focus.

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