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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    20 September  2012

First Asean human rights declaration's draft 'won't be perfect'


Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has succumbed to the "flawed" draft of the first human rights declaration for Southeast Asian states, citing the diverse system of states in the region as a significant factor that hindered efforts to reach a "perfect" document.

"State interests of each nation are also different from one to another. Hence, a document that must be reached via consensus will never please all parties," Natalegawa said yesterday.

State representatives grouped under the Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (Aichr) are finalising the final draft of the Asean Human Rights Declaration (AHRD).

The draft is subject to the scrutiny of Asean foreign ministers who will then give it to Asean heads of state for endorsement at the upcoming Asean Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in November.

Human rights groups from several Southeast Asian nations, however, have criticised the latest draft as "flawed" due to the absence of a number of points concerning the protection of rights of minorities, such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning, or Lgbtiq, and indigenous people.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum of the Human Rights Working Group accused Aichr representatives of having blocked suggestions from civil society for the sake of the national interest of their respective states. "The AHRD process has been hijacked by narrow-minded national interests," she said in a statement.

Indonesian human rights NGOs were among the 54 civil society organisations (CSOs) that gathered in Manila, the Philippines, last week, for the final discussions with Aichr representatives on the forthcoming AHRD. Wahyuningrum said input from CSOs, particularly the suggestions concerning Lgbtiq and indigenous people's rights, had received "cold feedback" from the Aichr.

"The responses from some Aichr representatives during the consultation clearly reflected that their job to draft the AHRD had been strongly driven by narrow-minded national interest," she said.

Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia's representative to the Aichr, said he could understand the activists' anxiety, saying it was "normal" that each Aichr representative defended his or her national interest.

"However, we, the representatives, have agreed not to let the upcoming AHRD fall short of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN-backed 1993 Vienna Declaration," he told the Post.

Djamin acknowledged discussions on Lgbtiq and indigenous issues had often become intense among Aichr representatives. "The issues are actually still problematic in almost all Asean countries, including Indonesia."

"Rights for Lgbtiq and indigenous people are new concepts," Djamin said, adding that the Aichr's mandate would end next month.

"CSOs still have a chance to make changes to the draft before it is released in the Asean Summit, but not through us anymore. Civil society can utilise the media, for example," he said.

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