Author: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
On August 9 and 10, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) conducted the Human Rights in the Time of COVID-19: Addressing the Crisis in Southeast Asia, which was graced by over 75 participants from the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), ASEAN Secretariat, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), ASEAN sectoral bodies, academia, and civil society organisations (CSOs).
The conference aspired to build more effective and robust relations between the regional human rights mechanisms, CSOs, NHRIs, and other stakeholders to ensure that human rights are mainstreamed and upheld in the region even during this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic. All concerned stakeholders are committed to holding ASEAN Member States accountable for flagrant violations and pressure governments to reaffirm their commitment to human rights protection.
The first day of the conference had informative speeches from AICHR, NHRIs, ASEAN Secretariat, and CSO leaders. Aside from the overt and covert challenges rattling ASEAN and its mechanisms, speakers also shared country-specific human rights issues aggravated by the ongoing Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Meanwhile, the second day of the conference was dedicated to assembling recommendations from CSOs and mapping out areas for multi-stakeholder collaboration and partnership.
• Elaborate on the trend of human rights violations and shrinking civic spaces in Southeast Asia, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with challenges and opportunities foreseen for 2021 and onwards;
• Build more effective coordination among AICHR, CSOs, and NHRIs to ensure the fulfilment of human rights within any measure taken by ASEAN leaders related to COVID-19, including the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF); and
• Discuss possible action plans between CSOs, AICHR, and NHRIs towards responding to alarming human rights issues stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The outcomes of the conference will be circulated and discussed with relevant stakeholders to galvanise concrete and time-bounded action to address the situation. FORUM-ASIA and CSOs have released an outcome document in September 2021 titled, ‘Towards a Better Partnership Between CSOs, NHRIs and AHRMs to Address the Pandemic’s Impact on the Human Rights Crisis in Southeast Asia,’. This outcome document consolidates CSOs’ recommendations in the national, regional, and subregional levels. Some of these recommendations include: ensuring a greater and coordinated response against systemic oppression and attacks on democratic institutions and values in Myanmar; strengthening human rights violations documentation and grievance mechanisms; developing a human rights checklist; strengthening the protection mandate of AICHR and revising the AICHR Terms of Reference; and facilitating regular consultations with NHRIs, CSOs and ASEAN human rights mechanisms (AHRMs), among others
This conference also propelled FORUM-ASIA’s partners to forge ties with other stakeholders present in the conference. As highlighted in the outcome document, there is a need for meaningful engagement of CSOs from diverse thematic issues and backgrounds and a regular annual interface meeting between CSOs, NHRIs and AHRMs to address the state of human rights in the region.
For the full version of the public report/conference proceedings, click here.