A shroud over the corpses or a new beginning?
The Terms of Reference for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), approved 20 July at the 42nd meeting of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Phuket, Thailand contains some promising language.
For the first time, a group of nations guilty of severe human rights violations in every member state has proclaimed that it will create a body which specifically focuses on promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN.
However, like all good legal documents this one comes with lawyers clauses -it appears that this body will do so whenever there is consensus that they should protect a specific person or groups human rights.
We all knew such a move would be difficult in ASEAN, and it is too much to expect an explicit working document from a sanctioning meeting, however the document fails to give any guidance regarding how the universality of human rights norms will be protected by a body which works under ASEAN’s principle of non-interference.
The proposed design has the members of the AICHR representing each government and appointed by them and capable of replacement at any time by the appointing government. The AICHR is to give its ‘studies’ and reports to each Foreign Minister. This is hardly a independent and transparent body. The proposed design does not give a mandate for the AICHR to have powers to monitor, investigate and report on human rights records or operate with independence. Without these, the body is likely to be a shroud over human rights abuses within the region than a genuine effort to protect human rights within the region.
Nonviolence International believes that the protection and promotion of human rights in ASEAN requires the creation of a fully independent regional body which has a unambiguous mandate to both protect and promote human rights with clear monitoring and investigative powers. This must be done through universal principles and internationally agreed treaties and standards.