Despite criticism from civil society and the United Nations rights chief, ASEAN leaders are set to take a momentous step in the association’s 45-year-old history by adopting the first-ever ASEAN human rights declaration, which aims to ensure human rights protection for 600 million people in the region.
“ASEAN will surely adopt the declaration. It was decided at the special senior officials meeting [SOM] in October. We will submit [the declaration draft] to ministers and then to the leaders to be adopted,” director general for ASEAN Cooperation at the Foreign Ministry, I Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja, told The Jakarta Post.
The ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights (ADHR) is expected to be adopted at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Sunday.
Preparing the declaration is one of the key mandates of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), which was established by the association in 2009.
Puja commented on the broad criticism voiced by civil society across the region, acknowledging that the declaration is not perfect given the differences in the political systems of the ASEAN member nations.
“It is not easy to unify all 10 nations and reach a similar level. At least we have a common denominator. We have to see the reality. The adoption is not the end [but, rather, the start of a] process to strengthen human rights protection in the ASEAN.”
After the adoption, Puja hoped that ASEAN would continue its work to strengthen rights for migrant workers, children, women, among others.
Despite criticism that the draft falls short of universal values, Puja said that the ASEAN declaration has some clauses that are better than the universal declaration, such as rights to development and rights to peace.
Indonesia’s Representative to the AICHR, Rafendi Djamin, said that the ADHR is not a disaster document. It is more of a political declaration to move forward, noting that in a diverse environment of democracy, such as the ASEAN, member-states have to reach a compromise.
The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Navanethem Pillay has called on ASEAN leaders to suspend the adoption, suggesting that ASEAN undertakes a public consultation and review the content as the draft falls short of universal values.
The UN rights chief criticized the lack of transparency during the drafting process.
“I must say that I am surprised and disappointed that the draft declaration has not been made public. And that civil society has not been consulted over the drafting of the document,” Pillay told The Jakarta Post during her visit to Jakarta on Tuesday.
“I am concerned that it will detract from the credibility of the document and the ownership of the document by the people concerned,” she said, voicing her concerns over the draft document.
Critics are especially concerned about the many terms and articles, such as “public morality” and “national and regional particularity”, in articles six, seven and eight of the general principles. Various other clauses are of concern because they detract from fundamental human rights principles.
At least 62 human rights groups across the globe have issued a joint statement urging ASEAN member states to postpone the adoption of the ADHR.
“The ADHR is not worthy of its name. We urge ASEAN states to send the draft back to the AICHR with instructions to revise it. The Declaration as it stands now unquestionably fails to meet existing international human rights standards, let alone add value to them,” the statement reads, according to a copy made available to the Post on Friday.
The NGOs threatened to reject and condemn the ADHR if the ASEAN insist to proceed with the adoption.
Among the 62 NGOs are prominent organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and several from Indonesia including the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).