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ASEAN ANALYSIS  27 October 2010

First year for Asean human rights body is difficult

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     27 October 2010

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The Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) started its work on 23 October 2009. Ahead of the upcoming 17th Asean Summit on October 28-30 in Hanoi, the Solidarity for Asian Peoples Advocacy Taskforce (SAPA) on Asean Human Rights and Development launched an “evaluation report” on the AICHR’s first year at a Bangkok press conference.

The press briefing was spread over two days with the first day covering the human rights issues of children, women and Myanmar (Burma).

At the outset, speakers noted that the chairmanship of Asean this past year belonged to Vietnam and this made it very difficult for the civil society groups to have meetings in Hanoi due to “intimidation” from the Vietnamese. Therefore, SAPA’s meetings were moved to Bangkok.

The overall opinion by the civil society group was that AICHR during its first year was “hiding behind its limitations.” For example, AICHR did not engage with civil society groups during the year because it had not adopted procedures on how civil society could engage with it.

Another criticism was that with the exception of Thailand and Indonesia, the rest of the Asean countries had appointed their human rights commissioners without transparency and most of the commissioners had no previous experience dealing with human rights issues.

Cheery Zahau, program coordinator of the Human Rights Institute of Burma observed that the Burmese commissioner’s previous job experience as ambassador to the United Nations. Another comment she made was that from January through July of this year 352 investigations of human rights abuses had been made in Burma but the AICHR had done nothing.

It was noted by the SAPA speakers at the conference that “Asean governments’ behaviors contradict their stated human rights goals.”

The group also strongly advocated that universal human rights declarations should be applied to Asean countries equally and that many Asean governments, such as Singapore, may wish to surreptitiously carve out an “Asean-style definition of human rights rather than accepting worldwide standards.

The press conference emphasized once again the wide divergence of the 10-member Asean group in not only economic terms but human rights issues as well.

Expect more flash points on human rights as the AICHR evolves.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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