ASEAN must be given the tools to fight against discrimination in states

The non-interference principle has served ASEAN rulers only too well

The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network
April 9, 2016, 12:01 am TWN

The new constituent country representatives to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) met this week in Jakarta. They include Indonesia’s Dinna Wisnu, director of the Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy, who replaced Rafendi Djamin, who had served on the AICHR since its establishment in 2009.

Current representatives face no less skepticism of the commission. Its birth was based on the controversial ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights, which finally accommodated national and regional particularities of human rights — even while ASEAN reaffirmed its “commitment” to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet as Indonesia’s Dinna wrote on Wednesday, representatives could seek leeway beyond restrictions born from ASEAN’s principle of non-interference into member states’ sovereignty. Their main reference should remain the AICHR’s purposes, including that ASEAN’s community “shall be free from fear” and that its people “shall enjoy the right to live in peace, dignity and prosperity.”

As the AICHR is not mandated to act or even comment on alleged rights violations, it is indeed limited to providing information to member states on such allegations. Yet commissioners can take heart from growing public pressure in several member states, the citizens of which are increasingly no longer submissive subjects of oppressive regimes. This means commissioners must brace for continuing criticism if the AICHR is seen to be ineffective.

It was the pro-democracy movement pushing fiercely to end chronic rights violations that led to the establishment of state human rights bodies in Indonesia and in neighboring countries. The movements continue as Southeast Asia’s old guards attempt to revoke hard-won civil liberties for their political and economic interests.

Therefore the AICHR should at least provide as much relevant information as possible about indications of rights violations to member states and do its utmost to promote adherence to universal and fundamental rights.

The non-interference principle has served ASEAN rulers only too well. The principle has not served those of its people undergoing various abuses; it has only been a cheap campaign to whip up narrow nationalism while entrenching impunity. ASEAN, for instance, stood by as Indonesia’s rulers tortured and killed its own citizens accused of subversion.

Today, Indonesians decrying the plight of Rohingya Muslims, for instance, may face the defensive “patriotism” of Myanmar citizens — just like Indonesians’ reactions when the world bombarded us for the treatment of former East Timor.

Therefore in improving human rights promotion, member states must clean up their own acts.

For Indonesia, this means President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo must reiterate non-acceptance of policies and actions that trample on fundamental rights. Citizens have experienced for too long how ASEAN’s claims of historic, religious and cultural contexts are manipulated to devise senseless rules and actions to maintain and boost political support.

Discrimination and assault against religious and sexual minorities are only among the latest pieces of evidence that Indonesia, which had championed a much more progressive regional human rights body, is far from equipped to share best practices with neighbors.

This is an editorial published by The Jakarta Post on April 7.