9th ASEAN Summit : Human Rights concerns : call to the ASEAN member States

06/10/2003
Press release

ADHOC - Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Cambodia
LICADHO - Cambodian League for Human Rights
MLDH - Lao Movement for Human Rights in Laos
PAHRA - Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates
SUARAM - Suara Rakyat Malaysia
TFDP - Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
UCL - Union for Civil Liberties (Thailand)
FIDH- International Federation for Human Rights

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member and partner organisations in ASEAN countries,
- ADHOC and LICADHO in Cambodia,
- Vietnam Committee on Human Rights in Vietnam,
- Lao Movement for Human Rights in Laos,
- PAHRA and TFDP in the Philippines,
- SUARAM in Malaysia,
- UCL in Thailand

call on ASEAN member states to take the opportunity of the forthcoming summit in Bali to address the serious human rights issues in the region and take decisive steps in this regard.

In particular, our organisations are concerned about the instrumentalisation and politicisation of the "fight against terrorism", which often becomes a mere fig leaf for a severe repression of any form of peaceful dissent.

We also consider that the situation in Burma can no longer be resolved with the long-standing policy of non-interference adopted by ASEAN.

More generally, we consider the lack of a regional human rights charter with an effective supervisory mechanism to be a factor of destabilisation of the region, as well as a factor of impunity and unchecked state violence. We call the 9th ASEAN Summit to launch an initiative aiming at the elaboration of an ASEAN Charter of fundamental rights as the guiding principle of regional integration.

In addressing these serious concerns, ASEAN countries will merely be abiding by the "ASEAN declaration", the founding charter for the association. Indeed, the ASEAN declaration states, in its article 2, that the aim of the Association is "to accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development (…), to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law".

We underline the fact that no long-lasting and sustainable development can be achieved without respect for human rights, as is emphasised in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

We regret that, over the years, ASEAN countries limited themselves to a narrow and short-term interpretation of the ASEAN declaration, promoting rapid economic growth at the expense of universally recognised human rights, thus conveniently maiming the Declaration and cutting off some of its vital components: "peace and stability", "the respect for justice and the rule of law", are themselves fundamental human rights, and crucially depend on the realisation of all other human rights. Human rights defenders in Southeast Asian countries have too often been the object of severe repression for simply reminding governments of their international obligations in this respect.

We strongly denounce the political discourse aiming at discrediting human rights and their defenders. They emphasise the universality of human rights, as is accepted by all governments in the region (as parties to various international human rights treaties and covenants).
As members of Southeast Asian and international civil society, our organisations deny such governments the monopoly of the understanding of "Asian culture" and "Asian values", unfortunately often used as a political tool. They strongly reiterate not only the compatibility of such culture and values to universally acknowledged human rights, but also their common foundation, based on respect for human dignity.

It is high time ASEAN fulfill the vision embodied in its founding document.
Establishing a Regional Human Rights Charter, based on international standards, together with a supervisory mechanism, would be a crucial step in that direction.

Terrorism and human rights
After September 11, 2003, security has become the absolute priority ; this is notably the case for ASEAN countries - the motto of the 9th ASEAN Summit being "towards an ASEAN economic and security community".

The struggle against terrorism is legitimate and necessary. However, it has been politically subverted and instrumentalised by certain governments in order to strengthen their own power, to the prejudice of their human rights commitments.

The international campaign against terrorism has been an occasion for many states to adopt new legislation restricting fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, association and assembly. Those laws have allowed certain governments to silence legitimate and peaceful opposition as well as human rights defenders, considered as subversive or a threat to national security.

We recall the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2002, which emphasizes the importance of both combating terrorism and respecting the rule of law and individual freedom (1) . We recall the UN Commission on Human Rights resolution on human rights and terrorism, which urges states to prevent, eliminate and combat terrorism "in strict conformity with international law, including human rights standards and obligations and international humanitarian law" (2).

We recall that justice must prevail on vengeance, and that the struggle against terrorism must necessarily be carried on in the framework of international human rights and humanitarian law. This notably includes the right to a fair trial.

Fighting against terrorism without abiding by the rule of law only serves to strengthen groups bent on violent action and weaken legitimate civil society groups working within the democratic framework.

Burma

Last but not least, our organisations want to raise the case of Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her party have been attacked last May in the North of Burma. The military junta organized the attack of her convoy, leading to the death of 50 to 80 people and the disappearance of more than 150 others; most of them only sympathized with her party or were just bystanders. During the attack, Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi was hit over the head and on her arms. She was then detained in an unknown place and could not be visited.

Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi is again under house arrest since 26 September. Our organisations consider that ASEAN member states should exert the necessary pressures in order to ensure that the Burmese military junta free Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi and the other detainees in connection with the 30 May attack.

We recall that after the violent suppression of the 1988 demonstrations for democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for almost 6 years. Despite many political restrictions, the National League for Democracy (NLD) clearly won the elections in 1990 with almost 83% of its candidates elected. The military has always refused to acknowledge the result of these elections. After her release, Aung San Suu Kyi was continuously harassed by the Burmese junta and was again placed under house arrest for 19 months between 2000 and 2002.

We consider that her last arrest and the violence against her and the convoy are one more step by the military to make this important opponent powerless despite the reiterated demands by the international community. The junta has tried to silence her, including through violence, since fifteen years.

ASEAN must take strong action to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political detainees. It must use all means at its disposal to force the regime in Rangoon to embrace the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

notes :
(1) A/RES/57/219
(2) CHR resolution 2003/37, para 5.

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