ASEAN: No hope in sight for NGO participation

[JAKARTA, 31 March 2010] - ASEAN is set to draft guidelines to protect the rights of migrants, women and children at its first assembly meeting which opened in Jakarta on Sunday.

The assembly will adopt procedures to establish sub-committees to deal with migrant rights, economic rights and women and children's rights, said Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia's Commissioner on the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR).

Djamin added that the AICHR would consider the working procedure for the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children [ACWC] which will be inaugurated at April’s ASEAN Summit.

AICHR’s first assembly did not touch on reports of human rights abuses in the region because “it has no mandate to respond to reports of abuse”...

AICHAR has been criticised for its lack of authority to investigate rights abuses in ASEAN’s 10 Member States, let alone punish perpetrators. The body is also unable to use its budget for human rights protection activities, such as gathering information about Member States’ progress in guaranteeing human rights...

“The budget will be ear-marked for activities to promote human rights, such as public awareness campaigns and education,” said Rafendi.

NGOs protest lack of cooperation

The AICHR assembly was marked by a protest on Monday from a coalition of NGOs in Southeast Asia.

The Solidarity for Asian Peoples Advocacy Taskforce on ASEAN Human Rights (SAPA TFHR) demanded to meet the ten commissioners and requested the rights body to hold regular meetings with civil society organisations. It also urged the body to investigate reports of human rights abuses.

However, the request was denied by the assembly chair who said the body did not have a mechanism to coordinate with NGOs and other parties.

“As a human rights institution, the refusal to meet with civil society is a contradiction of the spirit and principles of human rights. How can we expect this institution to promote and protect human rights in future?,” said Yap Swee Seng, co-convener of SAPA TFAHR and executive director of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

“The AICHR must take an inclusive and participatory approach, especially at these early stages that will determine how the body will operate.”

International human rights activists have pointed to Myanmar as one of the worst offenders in the region, with its military junta continuing to bar most citizens from exercising their civil, political and economic rights.

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