The level of public confidence in the Southeast Asian region in ASEAN’s efforts to enforce Human Rights has reached its lowest point. The issue of human rights is still a sensitive issue and is never discussed openly in public.
So says Senior Adviser ASEAN and Human Rights, Yuyun Wahyuningrum, at the Dutch Cultural Center in South Jakarta last night after speaking at a discussion to celebrate international human rights day. Yuyun gave one example of a closed meeting of representatives of the 10 ASEAN countries to discuss the matter of human rights.
“It was a closed meeting or retreat attended by representatives of 10 countries. The issues to be discussed were the fate of the Rohingya refugees and the disappearance of an activist in Laos,” said Yuyun.
Yuyun was surprised that the meeting had to be closed and could not be attended by other parties such as the ASEAN Secretariat or Ministries of Foreign Affairs. “Because if representatives of those two parties attend, whatever points raised in the meeting must be formally recorded,” she added.
If meetings are held behind closed doors, said Yuyun, only the meeting participants know what was discussed. If an agreement is reached during the meeting, there is no one to note this down.
The meeting is a reflection of the half-heartedness of ASEAN countries to discuss human rights issues. “They are actually not ready to talk about human rights issues in public, so the first step is to talk about these issues internally”, said Yuyun .
Despite the closed nature of such meetings, Yuyun believes that there has been progress as all 10 state representatives are prepared to talk about human rights. “It’s a shame the topics discussed were just for personal consumption and there was no will to disseminate these to the public,” she said.
Yuyun reminded ASEAN not to take a rigid approach but instead promote dialogue, even though this may not allow for fast resolution of human rights issues.
“Many people call such dialogue “Marty Ways” because among all the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in ASEAN, Marty Natalegawa is one of the most active in strengthening dialogue between the ASEAN. With him encouraging discussions like that, it will lead to changes within ASEAN”.
ASEAN in fact already has a mechanism for handling human rights issues, called the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). Unfortunately, the Commission does not have investigation mandate. “So, sometimes I wonder what was the benefit in establishing such a [human rights] body?”.
However, Yuyun asked the public not to lose hope in terms of human rights protection in Southeast Asia. There is still a willingness to implement human rights. “Although the two biggest challenges facing ASEAN is decision making via consensus and the principle of non-interference in the internal problems of other member states , ASEAN still has potential to act,” said Yuyun.
One of them is by promoting the dialogue. Efforts to enforce human rights in ASEAN have begun in 2009 when ASEAN established the adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. It took over 16 years to break down social barriers, political and cultural binding among member states.