Civil society groups want human rights on ASEAN Summit agenda

By Rex Remitio, CNN Philippines
Updated 17:58 PM PHT Sat, January 14, 2017

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte, who is this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) chairman, may not like the issue of human rights, but civil society organizations (CSOs) are determined to put it in the upcoming summit’s agenda.

With 2,230 people killed in police anti-drug operations and over 4,000 more due to vigilante killings, alleged human rights violations in the Philippines have caught the world’s attention, including the United Nations. The U.N. has asked the Philippine government to conduct investigations on the rise of extrajudicial killings in the country.

Duterte told police in late September that they should not put too much stock on human rights.

“Huwag kayong makinig diyan sa [don’t listen to] Human Rights because ang [the] human rights is always the antithesis of the government,” Duterte said in a speech.

But these human rights violations, according to a CSO leader, is not only here in the Philippines.

“There is a consistent and rampant violation of human rights in ASEAN,” said Prof. Eduardo Tadem, co-convener of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference, also citing the military coup in Thailand.

With the Philippines as the host country for 2017, a number of organizations think this is the best time to forward the advocacy, which includes calling for the independence of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

“So it would not be controlled by the governments in the region and will have the autonomy and independence to implement human rights provisions in the region,” said Tadem.

But Tadem described the human rights body of the ASEAN as “toothless,” as it can only monitor cases. It cannot make recommendations or conduct investigations.

“Walang track record ang ASEAN sa protection ng human rights [ASEAN has no track record of protecting human rights],” he added, saying eight out of 10 states in ASEAN are under authoritarian leadership.

The group also said the ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights is “relativist” and does not meet international standards.

“All are subject on national particularities. Each government has liberty on interpreting in their own way,” Tadem said.

The AICHR follows the same principles as the ASEAN Charter, one of them on “(respecting) the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all ASEAN Member States.”

The structure of the AICHR as an intergovernmental body is also problematic as it is only composed of representatives from the government, Tadem said. According to the ASEAN Civil Society Conference co-convenor, it would be best if the body will be multisectoral.

The ASEAN chairmanship rotates annually, in alphabetical order of its 10 member-states. The Philippines last hosted the ASEAN Summit in 2007 under former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

CNN Philippines’ Digital Producer Yvette Morales contributed to this report.