ASEAN report aims to strengthen civil society organizations in Myanmar

YANGON—A new report by the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights aims at strengthening human rights mechanisms for civil society organizations in Myanmar during the country’s ASEAN chairmanship, the AICHR said today.

The performance report by the AICHR, entitled “Still Window-Dressing,” was produced by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy –Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR).

The report, the third by AICHR since 2010, provides information for the general public about the recent development of ASEAN’s human rights mechanisms. 

“We hope to see a progressive review of the AICHR terms of reference (ToR) during Myanmar’s term as chair of ASEAN. A possible result of this review will be Myanmar’s legacy on human rights in ASEAN,” said Atnike Nova Sigiro, ASEAN advocacy programme manager of FORUM-ASIA.

FORUM-ASIA, as the convenor of SAPA TFAHR, views this report as an effective advocacy tool for strengthening the ASEAN human rights body.

“We hope that through this regular assessment, civil society can contribute to strengthening the AICHR and help it become an independent and effective body that will protect and ensure human rights in ASEAN,” said Sigiro.

The report, which provides a critical assessment of the work of the AICHR from 2011 until 2012, also aims to contribute to the review process for the AICHR ToR, which is due this year and will mainly take place in Myanmar.

According to the report, the AICHR’s work is still very limited and therefore its impact on the life of the people of ASEAN has been minimal. Because AICHR’s mandate is still limited to promotion, this body cannot make an official response to any human rights situation in the region.

The regular assessment since 2010 has assisted advocacy efforts for an independent and effective ASEAN human rights body that protects and promotes human rights in ASEAN, Sigiro said.

The report also points out the lack of engagement between the AICHR and civil society organizations.

“Civil society organizations in many ASEAN countries have been calling for the AICHR to set up an inclusive guideline of engagement with civil society, but it is still not available yet. We have heard that the AICHR will soon set up this guideline. We hope that the guideline will be done by early 2014 so that civil society can be involved in the review process from the very beginning,” said one human rights activist.

“Civil society in ASEAN will continue advocating for the AICHR to ensure that the body works effectively to address human rights in ASEAN,” said Aung Myo Min, executive director at Equality Myanmar, a non-governmental organisation that is helping to circulate the report.

“This is especially important for Myanmar civil society. We need to ensure that such a process will bring a positive impact for the livelihood of ASEAN people, including Myanmar. With the new political situation, Myanmar’s civil society should engage in the process to become as vibrant a civil society as in other ASEAN countries.”