ASEAN Human rights body : weak mandate, weak protection

Press release
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Following the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Phuket - Thailand and the approval of the Terms of Reference (ToR) for an ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses, in an open letter addressed to the Heads of State and Government, its concerns regarding the mandate of the new body, ahead of its launch at the next ASEAN Summit in October.

FIDH recognizes that the recent agreement and the approval of the ToR gave birth to the first human rights mechanism in Asia, the only region in the world not disposing such mechanism. For this important achievement, FIDH and its members in the region congratulate ASEAN. Nevertheless, FIDH wishes to draw the attention to the mandate given to the new body as it raises serious doubts regarding its credibility.

FIDH regrets that the High Level Panel proposed a weak mandate, in spite of the strong and devoted mobilization of human rights organizations and civil society in ASEAN. In addition, FIDH denounces the clear lack of power of the future ASEAN Human Rights body and the efforts of some member States to undermine its protection mandate. Moreover, FIDH deeply regrets the absence of a formal mechanism of individual complaints and the simple consultative status given to the Commission. The new body may be unable to evaluate and qualify human rights situation, and to decide on monitoring and follow-up independent mechanisms.

Furthermore, FIDH deplores the rules of composition adopted for the AICHR, as the nomination of officials accountable to their Governments, will affect the credibility of the AICHR at the international level and among the ASEAN civil society. FIDH also seriously questions the intentions of Burma to appoint an expert with a human rights experience to the Commission. Finally, FIDH regrets the evident lack of political will from some of ASEAN member states, despite the principles and the provisions of the Charter, signed by Heads of States and Governments and expresses its deepest disappointment with the fact that the body’s duty is mainly limited to enhance public awareness on issues of human rights.

FIDH calls for the reinforcement of the mandate, so that the protection dimension of this mechanism will be included and underlined in the clearest and strongest terms into the political declaration to be drafted in August in Manila. It should also give some real impetus to a process launched by ASEAN following the signature of the Charter to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice, the rule of law and human rights.

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