First session of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) : Transparency, dialogue with civil society and tools to address the protection gap in the AICHR’s mandate should be on the agenda

26/03/2010
Press release

Open letter to the Honourable Representatives to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)

Excellencies,

We are writing to you ahead of the upcoming first formal session of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), to take place from 28 March to 1st April 2010 in Jakarta. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomed the establishment of the first body of its kind in the Asian region last year, and we believe that this new institution has a real potential to advance human rights in South East Asia. The establishment of the Commission itself is a milestone, in spite of the weaknesses of the Terms of Reference (TOR) under which it was established. The challenge is now to build up an effective institution that will be accountable to the peoples of ASEAN and have the capacity to truly promote and protect human rights. In our view, the strengthening of the Commission will largely depend on the commitment of its members.

The agenda of your forthcoming meeting reportedly includes discussions on a draft Rules of Procedures of the Commission, as well as on a work plan defining its strategic priorities for the coming year. We believe that the Rules of Procedures could and should be a key instrument to strengthen the independence, accountability and transparency of the Commission, to introduce effective promotion and protection mechanisms and tools, and to ensure meaningful participation of civil society.

Transparency is key to reinforce accountability and independence; it entails making available and accessible a range of information to the general public of ASEAN countries, to whom the representatives are ultimately accountable. This includes but is not limited to the agenda of the sessions, annual and pluri-annual work plans, reports, budget and sources of funding - with due consideration for confidentiality and sensitivity of specific information. The Commission should publish such relevant information in a timely manner so as to enable stakeholders to prepare their engagement with the Commission.

The TOR do not explicitly provide for specific protection mechanisms, but neither do they forbid them. On the contrary, the protection of human rights is explicitly one of the purposes of the AICHR, according to Art. 1.1 of the TOR. Therefore, FIDH strongly urges the representatives to exercise one of the Commission’s mandated functions under Article 4.1 to “develop strategies for the promotion and protection of human rights” by introducing and using creative and effective protection mechanisms and tools, in addition to those already specified in the TOR, to address human rights violations in the region. In that connection, we encourage the Commission to deliberate on an adequate response to the petition filed by the families of the journalists killed in the November 23 massacre in Maguindanao, the Philippines.

In the Cha-Am Hua Hin Declaration on the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights adopted on October 23, 2009, the ASEAN Heads of state/government acknowledge “the contribution of stakeholders in the promotion and protection of human rights in ASEAN, and encourage their continuing engagement and dialogue with the AICHR.” To give substance to this recognition, FIDH calls on the representatives to the Commission to institutionalise and maintain open channels of communication and consultation with civil society, especially non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, victims of human rights violations and their families, and national human rights institutions.

These stakeholders must be able to freely seek, receive and impart information regarding the work of the Commission, and to participate meaningfully in all stages of its work, including in the preparation of annual work plans and budgets, regular and special sessions, thematic studies and standard-setting exercises. The Rules of Procedure and other institution-building initiatives should ensure that such consultation and interaction will effectively take place.

FIDH believes it is crucial at this early stage of the Commission’s development that its institution-building activities address the aforementioned needs and fill the protection gap in its mandate.

We appreciate your serious consideration of these recommendations.

Sincerely yours,
Souhayr Belhassen
President, FIDH

CC: H.E. Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary General of ASEAN

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