A review of a controversial ASEAN human rights commission got underway last week but activists say they remain sceptical that Myanmar can use it chairmanship in 2014 to strengthen the body.
Regional officials gathered at ParkRoyal Hotel in Yangon from February 8-11 to review the terms of reference of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights, which has been criticised as toothless and ineffective since its creation in 2009.
The commission said in a statement released following the meeting that the commission has scheduled a series of consultations to assess its work and get feedback on ways to improve the body. These recommendations will be submitted to the ASEAN foreign ministers for approval.
The statement also said the commission has begun discussion on the drafting of a convention on the prevention and elimination of violence against women and children. It is also considering guidelines on its relations with civil society organisations.
U Aung Htoo, deputy director general of the foreign ministry’s ASEAN Affairs Department, said that under Myanmar’s leadership the review of the terms of reference could bring about a more effective rights commission.
But Indonesian human rights activist Yuyun said ASEAN used the human rights mechanism to shield its members’ rights record from international scrutiny.
Ms Yuyun called on Myanmar to use its chairmanship to strengthen the body.
“AICHR's weaknesses are by design from the beginning. It has no mandate … to investigate, monitor and receive complaints on human rights,” she said. “It is very important for Myanmar to ensure that the review is to strengthen the protection mandate rather than dilute [it].”
Women’s rights activist Ma Wai Wai Nu said Myanmar could not take the lead on women’s rights issues as chair of the commission while women in ethnic area were still subject to abuse.
“Sexual violence, especially rape and other forms of harassment, is occurring with total impunity around the country,” she said, accusing the government of posturing for the sake of its international image.