Call to Set up Asean Human Rights Court

Indonesia’s representative to Asean’s human rights body has called on the 10-member bloc to establish a regional human rights court within the next ten years.

Rafendi Djamin, who sits on the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), said it is the next step in developing Asean’s rights mechanism.

“The current terms of reference for AICHR lacks the mandate to investigate human rights abuses,“ he said.

“There are many elements to promote human rights but not enough to protect or investigate them.”

AICHR was set up in 2009 as a consultative body to promote regional cooperation on human rights but NGOs have characterised the body as toothless and lacking the authority to investigate or prosecute human rights offenders.

Rafendi said Asean’s court should have similar standards to tribunals set up in Europe and Africa to prosecute genocide and other gross human rights violations. Once legal avenues had been exhausted at the national level, cases could be submitted to the regional court.

“When Asean in the future agrees to have a court there will be a rule of exhaustive principles … When national remedies have reached their maximum or there is no political will to actually settle for judicial solution… then it will go to a regional level.”

The veteran rights activist said the court’s establishment had yet to be discussed in AICHR because before the court could be set up, the body must formulate more legally-binding mechanisms such as a human rights convention.

Although Asean leaders signed the Asean Human Rights Declaration in 2012, it is only a political commitment to common values, not a legally binding document to respect rights like a convention, said Rafendi.

“Regarding the convention, the discussion is still very broad… it has to be discussed with all stakeholders, including NGOs.”

He added that next year, under Myanmar’s chairmanship of Asean, there would be a review of AICHR’s terms of reference, which would hopefully be amended to include more protection elements.