Shaping Human Rights Policy in ASEAN

Bandar Seri Begawan: A group of civil society organisations, think-tanks and government representatives gathered in Jakarta from October 31 to November 3 for a back-to-back programme to discuss on human rights issues pertaining to the Asean region.

Representing Brunei Darussalam were Hj Awang Hasbollah bin Haji Awang Damit, Vice-President III of the Brunei Council on Social Welfare; and Khairunnisa Ash’ari, Head of International Relations Bureau of the Brunei Youth Council.

The four-day programme involved a series of activities, namely the 4th dialogue between the Asean Secretary-General, Asean Secretariat and Representatives of Civil Society Organisations; the 2nd Community Dialogue with Asean Committee of Permanent Representatives; and the 2nd Jakarta Human Rights Dialogue. They were organised by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), supported by the Embassy of Switzerland and the Embassy of Germany in Jakarta.

The meetings were .a continuation from the previous meetings, which have been successful in providing the basis for an informal setting for interaction between Southeast Asia Human Rights NGOs and the Asean Secretary-General and the Asean Secretariat on human rights issues in the region. Based on that experience, these dialogues were aimed to continue supporting reflections towards the shaping of human rights policy in the Asean region through the instruments available to the Asean Secretary-General.

A dialogue with the Asean Committee of Permanent Representatives was held to give an opportunity to the civil society representatives to provide their comments and suggestions to improve the human rights situation in Asean. Also present was Emaleen Abd Rahman Teo, Who gave a summary of the outcome of the Mean Summit in Brunei Darussalam. The CPR representatifes from the other nine countries were also present to share their views and discuss ideas with the civil society representatives.

This event was followed by a dialogue between the Asean Secretary-General and Asean Secretariat with the Civil Society Organisations Representatives. During his keynote message, Le Luong Minh said that awareness and understanding of Asean and our community building process needs to be further enhanced at local, national, regional and international levels to garner broad stakeholder support for Asean initiatives.

He also said that there is a need for continued engagement with all stakeholders of the Asean Community – both private and public sectors – to foster a better understanding of Asean and pave the way for more support, confidence and participation in Asean.

He believes that the human rights dialogue will contribute to the enhancement of trust and confidence among all stakeholders striving together for the further promotion and more effective protection of human rights for the peoples of Asean. The dialogue will only succeed on the basis of mutual respect, trust and confidence.

A Civil Society Organisation (CSO) statement was also read out to the Mean Secretary-General and Asean Secretariat, which was delivered by Khairunnisa, the Head of the International Relations Bureau of the Brunei Youth Council, as the youth representative from Brunei Darussalam. Some of the points raised were the need to mainstream ‘human rights’ in the three Asean Community Blueprints. The CSO representatives have also encouraged the Asean Secretary-General to initiate discussions amongst stakeholders on the establishment of an Asean Human Rights Court. As part of an initiative to create a culture of dialogue in Asean, the CSOs urged the Asean Secretary General to institutionalise the engagement with civil society, with the involvement of the Asean Secretariat to be annually organised. There was also a call for a review of the terms of references, which should be transparent, accountable to the people and ensure substantive participation.

The representatives also had the opportunity to raise issues or questions to the Asean Secretariat, represented by AKP Mochtan, the Deputy Secretary-General of Asean for Community and Corporate Affairs Department, and Leena Ghosh, Assistant Director on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

The theme of the third event, the 2nd Human Rights Dialogue, was “Prevention of Torture in Asean Region”, facilitated by Rafendi Djamin, Indonesian Representative of AICHR. It involved sharing of best practices and update of current status on prevention of torture in Asean countries that have signed the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Various other representatives from international human rights organisations were also present to deliver their talks, such. as representatives from Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and UN Sub Committee on Torture (SPT) Regional Team on Europe, who discussed various issues pertaining to regional cooperation in preventing torture. The role of stakeholders was also discussed in assessing, monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of torture prevention. During the final day of the dialogue, a brainstorming session was held to come up with ideas for a regional cooperation to prevent torture and possible inter-regional cooperation. It is hoped that this dialogue would help to develop a regional plan of action to implement Article 14 of the AICHR’s TOR by exploring the experiences of other regional human rights mechanisms.

“Coming from the youth sector, this event has really been a step forward in terms of youth inclusion and engagement in the policy-making level. We were informed that this year was the first time youth representatives have been included in the discussions. As a member of the Brunei Youth Council, and also I believe I speak on behalf of my colleagues from the Mean Youth Movement based in Thailand, a dialogue of this nature was really useful in bringing forward a youth perspective in the discussion, as youth, being a cross-cutting issue, are also facing the impact on human rights violations. I’m really thankful to the organisers for giving us the opportunity to voice out our concerns and being part of the mechanism to improve the human rights situation in the region,” said Khairunnisa.