Addressing problems of human trafficking and migration within Southeast Asia is a realistic way to improve regional cooperation on human rights despite the principle of non-interference of ASEAN, a leading activist said.
Thida Khus, a leader of the Women’s Caucus in Southeast Asia, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that the 10 government members of ASEAN were more open to discuss cross border issues on illegal immigrants and human trafficking, compared to other more “political” issues.
“We wouldn’t be interfering [into states’ sovereignty] because the issues are cross border in nature,” Khus said.
Speakers at the two-day 6th Regional Consultation on ASEAN and Human Rights raised the “sensitivity” of several member states including Myanmar.
Hundreds of the Rohingya ethnic minority have fled to Indonesian waters, saying they are persecuted by the Myanmar government. Indonesian undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia also remain an unresolved issue.
Khus, also a leader of Silaka, a women’s NGO in Cambodia, was one of the speakers at the talks, which involved several NGOs as well as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).
Next year ASEAN is scheduled to review the commission’s terms of reference, which limit the body’s mandate to request information from member states “on the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Khus proposed that the commission work together on trafficking and migration, for instance, with the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children.
As the commissions largely included government representatives, speakers warned that the ASEAN bodies, especially AICHR, lacked transparency
More cooperation between the commissions would encourage ASEAN to address issues such as trafficking, Khus said.
The regional association, representing some 600 million people, is still widely criticized following the signing of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in Phnom Penh in November 2012.
Indonesia’s representative to the AICHR, Rafendi Djamin, said exposure to human rights violations was still new to most ASEAN countries, which includes new democracies, monarchies and socialist states.
However, Rafendi said he tried to “push existing opportunities” since the commission’s establishment in October 2009.
I Gusti Agung Wesaka, directorate general of ASEAN Cooperation at the Foreign Ministry, said the government fully supported efforts to improve the association’s handling of human rights.
Evelyn Balais-Serrano, executive director of Forum Asia the co-organizer of the talks, had raised the recent conviction of activists in Myanmar who protested against the Shwe Gas Pipeline Project in Arakan.
With strong pressure to create an ASEAN Economic community by 2015, Serrano said, talks on corporate social responsibility and human rights in the region would be increasingly relevant. (hrl)