By Yuni Suryati.
ASEAN as an intergovernmental organization has always worked towards improving the lives of its member countries’ citizens, in the economic, political-security and socio-cultural aspects. To further ensure the wellbeing of the people, ASEAN decided to have their own regional human rights body, which reflects the strong commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Therefore, the organization established ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in 1993.
AICHR established along with the developing of ASEAN members as well as the internal dynamics of each member country which was connected to the growth of global developments. ASEAN human rights body needs to be established, because of: First, the body will ensure that ASEAN member all adhere to international human rights standards. Second, the body provides a common platform where ASEAN member that being socio-politically different from each other, can articulate their human rights-related concerns. Third, with a human rights body, the region can cooperate to address violations and collectively show its stand on human rights-related issues.
As we learn, the ASEAN member countries face a variety of human right issues, especially inequality, protection and fulfillment of civil-rights in the field of political, economic, socio cultural and gender. It should be recognized as ASEAN member countries came from diverse backgrounds such as the characteristics of member states, forms of government, level of democracy, and civil society participation in solving problems on human rights. Thus the level of commitment to the implementation of human rights in every member’s country becomes uneven.
In fact, the development of human rights in Southeast Asia since the establishment of ASEAN has received less attention. Human rights emphasized only on the promotion and never touched the issue of protection. Unlike in the other regional areas such as Europe, America, and Africa which already have a regional human rights court of justice, the development of human rights mechanism in ASEAN was left behind.
AICHR which now has commissioners from 10 ASEAN countries, in general have the task in formulating the promotion and protection of human rights in the ASEAN region through education, monitoring, dissemination the values and standards of international human rights as mandated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1993 Vienna Declaration on Human Rights, and other international human rights instruments. This consultative commission has principal mandates, which are includes: developing a strategy to promote and to protect human rights as part of the process of establishing an ASEAN community; developing ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and the framework of cooperation in the field of human rights; increasing public awareness in the ASEAN region through education, research, and dissemination of information; encouraging member countries to ratify international instruments on human rights; encouraging ASEAN countries to implement all of ASEAN instruments relating to human rights; engaging other ASEAN bodies, including civil society as well as stakeholders in the dialogue and consultation on human rights issues in the ASEAN region; preparing studies or studies on thematic issues of human rights in ASEAN; submit an annual report to the foreign ministerial meeting; and performing other tasks approved by the foreign ministerial meeting.
Among the 14 AICHR’s mandates, none of which specifically regulates the function of the protection of human rights. The exclusion of the protection function bring a consequences that this institution unable to give an efforts in preventing of human rights violations in the region. Moreover, human rights violations cannot be processed by the AICHR, because the investigation will be considered as a form of intervention in the principle of sovereignty. This is accordance to the ASEAN Charter article that stated the non-intervention principal of the internal member countries problems, and respecting the rights of member states by promoting an attitude of free from foreign interference, subversion and coercion.
The absence of human rights protection function in AICHR has an impact that the body face difficulties to undertake prevention efforts, such as encouraging the member countries of ASEAN to synchronize their national legislation with the principles of universal human rights and there is no mechanism for reporting and investigating cases of human rights violations.
Despite all the criticism and weaknesses, the presence of the AICHR has marked that ASEAN started to pay attention to human rights issues in the region. Its presence indicates agreement and awareness among the ASEAN countries to talk and discuss about the human rights issues. ASEAN seems also reached a consensus that the issue of human rights is a transnational problems that must be solved together. In this regard, I would like to suggest several options, which are as follows:
- Reform of AICHR to improve and strengthen human rights protection, therefore ASEAN region will become more peaceful and harmonious.
- AICHR should review, improve and renew its mandates and consider the proposal and feedback from various organizations and elements of society.
- ASEAN should established a human rights court of justice such as others regional organizations in the world that have their own justice institutions on human rights violations, namely the European Court of Human Rights, the African Commission and Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Among the three options, I would like to suggest that ASEAN needs to reform of AICHR and strengthening its functions, therefore, the promotion and protection of human rights will be standardized, flexible and implementable.
Jakarta, 21 October 2016.