On 16 June 2014 the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) along with Amnesty International and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights held a side event on the sidelines of the 26th Session of the UN Human Rights Council at Palais des Nations – Geneva entitled: “The Role of the International Human Rights Community in the Review of the ToR of AICHR: Towards an Effective and Independent ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism”.
(Geneva, 20 June 2014): On 16 June 2014 the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) along with Amnesty International and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights held a side event on the sidelines of the 26th Session of the UN Human Rights Council at Palais des Nations – Geneva entitled: “The Role of the International Human Rights Community in the Review of the ToR of AICHR: Towards an Effective and Independent ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism”. Speakers at the event called upon the international community to pay attention to the ASEAN’s human rights deliberations and seek robust human rights arrangements in the region.
This call comes ahead of a planned consultation by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) from 27th to 28th June in Bangkok. At this consultation AICHR is expected to seek inputs from varied actors, including international human rights experts and other regional and international human rights mechanisms. Such inputs are expected to feed into the review of the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the ASEAN human rights body. The review of the ToR, which will take place this year, comes five years after AICHR was created.
Speaking at the event in Geneva, Atnike Sigiro from FORUM-ASIA said “the experience of other regional mechanisms and UN mechanisms can be brought to bear on this review exercise. A strong call by the international human rights community during the ToR review process will surely amplify efforts for an independent and effective ASEAN human rights body”.
“The people of ASEAN do not deserve human rights instruments that are lower and weaker than in other regions of the world” emphasised Dr. Yuval Ginbar from Amnesty International. Dr Ginbar further explained that existing provisions for decision-making by consensus have given states sweeping veto powers, preventing AICHR from responding to human rights situations – leaving the body powerless in the face of significant human rights violations and situations that the region regularly grapples with. “The revised ToR should provide for alternatives when a consensus cannot be reached” Dr. Ginbar said further adding that “in-order to be effective the revised ToR should empower AICHR to receive complaints from individuals, organisations and states; conduct investigations; make recommendations; and publish reports.”
Andrea Galindo from Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the third speaker at the event, highlighted the importance of the opportunity to change AICHR’s ToR and said “civil society has always played an important role in the development of regional and international human rights systems. A lot of those changes happened through changes of the Rules of Procedures.” Pointing to examples of change in other regional mechanisms, Ms. Galindo stated that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) did not initially have the competence to receive complaints, but civil society and victims presented cases regardless precipitating IACHR to begin processing the cases. In the context of these examples and keeping in mind the review of AICHR’s ToR Ms. Galindo said that “human rights system should share best practices”.
“We know that all beginnings are tough,” Dr Ginbar concluded, “but after five years we are no longer at the beginning – it’s time for AICHR to become a human rights commission worthy of its name.” Ms. Sigiro agreed while calling on international actors to ensure that they contribute positively during AICHR’s consultation next week in Bangkok. “We hope to see AICHR make robust recommendations on its ToR to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting this August. These recommendations must at minimum allow the ASEAN human rights body to work more independently and effectively” she said.
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