Southeast Asians Deserve Stronger Human Rights Body

Washington

Freedom House urges the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to improve its new human rights commission by adding a strong protection mechanism as recommended by Indonesia and regional civil society leaders. 

The terms of reference for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights were formally approved today at the 42nd meeting of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Thailand. The document calls for a body focused on promoting human rights, rather than protecting them, and emphasizes that the commission is committed to "non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN member states."

"Southeast Asia is home to some of the world’s worst human rights abusers and its citizens deserve to have a human rights commission that holds countries accountable to international human rights standards," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "ASEAN is making progress toward creating such a body, but in its current form the commission will offer little more than lip service to the promotion of human rights.”

In the future, ASEAN should ensure that the commission can work with autonomy, free of both political and financial pressure. The composition of the commission should shift from a body comprised of solely state-appointed representatives to one that includes the active participation of both independent human rights experts and civil society. An individual complaint mechanism should be created and the commission should have the authority to conduct regular reviews of human rights in each ASEAN country, including on-site visits.

Talks on the terms of reference nearly broke down Sunday after Indonesia suggested strengthening the commission's mandate. Indonesia is the only ASEAN member ranked Free in Freedom of the World, Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. Half of the body's members are ranked Not Free, including Burma and Laos which are in the bottom tier of Freedom House's rankings, earning them a place in Worst of the Worst 2009: The World's Most Repressive Societies. 

ASEAN is expected to formally launch the commission in October.

To learn more about ASEAN members, read:

Freedom in the World 2009
Freedom of the Press 2008
Worst of the Worst 2009


Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Southeast Asia since 1972.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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