Written by: Fara Sheila Azalia
In commemoration of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)’s 10th anniversary, ASEAN Studies Center UGM has held the Public Discussion and Book Launching with the theme “The Evolution of the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism: Institutional and Thematic Issues Within” at East Seminar (Seminar Timur), Faculty of Social and Political Sciences UGM, 16 November 2019.
Attended by over 40 institutions from all over Jogjakarta, this event launched the book and invited several notable speakers who were active in promoting and protecting human rights in ASEAN as a way to reflect how far we have overcome, and what are things that challenge us ahead.
Dio Herdiawan Tobing and Dr. Randy Wirasta Nandyatama as the editors of the book, along with Ezka Amalia moderated the whole discussion. Dio opened the session by talking about how human rights are perceived as Western thinking and how to contextualize human rights to be more relevant in ASEAN. Although human rights have its own ‘rules of the game’, however, this rule cannot be applied directly as ASEAN is made up of diverse countries. For instance, Indonesia and Thailand are going independent, while others are trying to have open elections. Thus, how to go beyond the rules and make it more relevant to the condition of ASEAN possess? That’s one of the question the book trying to answer. Randy presented the opportunities and challenges of implementing human rights in ASEAN. When it comes to opportunities, there have been good relations between states and civil society organizations (CSOs). Member states require new and fresh ideas and CSOs can give new ideas on how to promote human rights. When it comes to challenges, ASEAN has an ‘exclusivity’, meaning that different countries have their own distinct views towards human rights, which makes it harder for CSOs to engage. Each country has specific strategic thinking on human rights and only by having more knowledge, CSOs can have better suggestions on how to promote human rights. Ammar Hidayatullah as one of the writers of the book talked about rights for the disabled person in ASEAN. In ASEAN, 1 from 10 people have disabilities, making them reach to 65 million people in the region. So far, ASEAN has drafted the 2012 Bali Declaration and 2012 Commission drafted the Human Rights Declaration for the advancement for the rights of people with disabilities.
In the next session which called ‘Looking Back How Far Have We Gone Now?’, H.E. Amb. Ade Padmo Sarwono as the Permanent Representative of Indonesia to ASEAN highlighted the progress of human rights mechanism in ASEAN and how different countries have their own way to achieve establishment of protection of human rights. AICHR essentially is to promote conversation among the people in ASEAN so that they can share the best practice on protecting human rights in their own country. Although it has the element of ‘intergovernmental’, however, the work does not fall to the government scope only. It has to be supported by all elements of society to be succeeded. Only through conversations, then countries within ASEAN can move forward to achieve human rights protection. H.E. Amb. Phasporn Sangasubana, Permanent Representative of Thailand to ASEAN highlighted the role of non-state actors as the representative of AICHR and there has to be cooperation and coordination among the stakeholders in ASEAN. H.E. Yuyun Wahyuningrum as the Indonesian Representative to AICHR explained how human rights used to be perceived nationally, and since AICHR established, there are efforts to situate human rights regionally. AICHR still has limitations due to the lack of mandate of fact-finding, monitoring, and investigation of human rights. However, they are now acting as the platform of political dialogue between countries to share ways of promoting and protecting human rights nationally. They also have the ability to establish a focal point on specific issues. She argued that AICHR has been achieving good progress so far, by becoming a promotional regime–they institutionalized many human rights mechanisms such as AHRD, DEVAWC, and ACTIP.
The last session, ‘Looking Forward Prospects and Challenges Ahead’, was talking about what should AICHR improve to promote the protection of human rights in ASEAN by inviting Edmund Thai Boon Soon as the Former Malaysian Representative to AICHR (2015-2018), Desi Hanara as the Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator for ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, and Rachel Arini J as the East Asia and ASEAN Programme Manager of FORUM-ASIA Report No.2 Launching Perspective from the CSOs. Edmund stressed the importance of being assertive and do fact-finding for AICHR. Human rights standards often fall to the ‘margin of appreciation’ thus there has to be an agreed standard for ASEAN member countries. ASEAN also has many issues such as lack of protection for migrant workers. Although such issue exist, however, it is still lacking on how to manage those issues and what ASEAN can do is by having more fact-finding to cover as many issues as possible. Desi Hanara, on the other hand, compared AICHR with other human rights regional organizations. To name a few, European Convention on Human Rights, Inter-American Human Rights System, African Commission on Human’s People’s Rights, and ECOWAS. What ASEAN still lacking is on the individual complaint’s mechanism. ECHR can facilitate individual to submit their complaints directly to the ECtHR if the country is violating her/his rights. ECOWAS does not require one to exhaust local remedies if he/she wants to submit a case to the court. How about AICHR? It is not reaching those stages yet. Rachel Arinii assessed the performance of AICHR from the lense of CSOs. through the FORUM-SAIA Report No.2, there are various items that AICHR still lacking on. AICHR remained silent during the Rohingya Crisis and they only focus on achieving civic and political rights. Throughout these 10 years, there has not many that AICHR achieved. However, Rachel noted that this happened not because of the failure of the representatives. This happened due to structural failure. Last but not least, she recommended several actions to improve AICHR. One of them is to remove the ‘intergovernmental’ element from AICHR’s name and its mandate so that it becomes everyone’s job to improve human rights protection in ASEAN.
The book is accessible by early next year and can be accessed through our website (asc.fisipol.ugm.ac.id).