ASEAN to consult on human rights

Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei Times/ ANN) — The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) will seek more consultation with civil society organisations (CSO) in 2014, said a representative of the grouping.

Human rights should never be a state-driven process, it should always be a participatory process,” said Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s representative to AICHR.

Since its establishment in 2009, AICHR has been criticised for not involving CSOs in the formulation of the ASEANHuman Rights Declaration and other discussions.

Acknowledging this shortcoming, Rafendi said by early 2014 AICHR will finalise the process for CSO engagementwith the rights body.

“The state has responsibility to lead – they are the duty bearers – but without the participation of stakeholders.. that will not build real ownership,” he told The Brunei Times in a recent interview.

“CSO engagement will help stimulate a debate on a national level, and about the needs of ASEAN citizens.”

ASEAN leaders have been criticised for not giving AICHR the mandate to investigate human rights abuses, but Rafendi hopes that will change by 2015, and that the terms of reference for AICHR can be amended to include a stronger mandate to protect rights, and not just promote them.

“The terms of reference will be up for review in 2014. We need to strengthen our function and see how we can strengthen the protection process.”

After consultation with experts and various CSOs, AICHR representatives will present a report to ASEAN foreign ministers next year, recommending any changes to the body’s terms of reference.

“We as a human rights commission cannot run away from our responsibility… Next year under Myanmar’s chairmanship, we must achieve something concrete,” said the veteran activist.

He added that under Brunei’s chairmanship of ACIHR this year, the body has increased engagement with youth groups and has also provided training for law enforcement officials who deal with human trafficking issues.