March 21 - 22, 2007
ASEAN Writes a Charter – Will It
Cover Human Rights?
The Working Group holds strategy meeting
The Working Group for an ASEAN
Human Rights Mechanism (Working Group)
held a strategy workshop
in Manila from 21-22 March 2007. Sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann
Foundation (FNF), it comes at a time of substantial progress
ASEAN ‘s Vientiane Action Programme incorporated human rights
concerns in its agenda and produced a commitment
to work on the rights of migrant workers and the rights
of women and children
. Next came the report of the Eminent
Persons Group outlining an ASEAN charter that was endorsed in the
12th ASEAN summit
in Cebu: it included the promotion of human rights in the list of
objectives of ASEAN and suggested that the idea of having an ASEAN
human rights mechanism
should be further explored. Now
the process is in the hands of the High Level Task Force (HLTF)
of senior ASEAN officials who are actually drafting the charter.
One of the arguments now is whether the charter should provide
for an ASEAN Human Rights Commission. The Working Group sees this
as a crucial opportunity and is arguing
for a commission. It reasons that this can be done in
such a way that only those countries that willingly agree will
be covered by the remit of this commission, while others are allowed
to opt in when they are ready.
The HLTF is in the process of drafting the charter, but it is
still open to recommendations and consultations with civil society.
The Working Group’s strategy workshop discussed how best
to use this opportunity to get its view across to the decision-makers.
This stage is crucial. Once the charter is finalized and ratified,
it will be very hard to bring in a new institution afterwards.
Apart from this, the Working Group also discussed how to intensify
their co-operation with the existing national human rights commissions
that have been established in some ASEAN countries, and how to
help countries that intend to establish one, such as Cambodia.
Dato Param Cumaraswami, the chair of the Malaysian Working Group
and former United Nations rapporteur on human rights, summed up
the hopeful atmosphere in his introduction to the workshop: “For
12 years we have been working hard for an ASEAN human rights mechanism.
Finally we see a light of hope. The challenge now is to formulate
what shape the mechanism will take.”
Siegfried Herzog, FNF resident representative, lauded the Working
Group: “We have been supporting this process from the beginning.
It is encouraging to see how much progress the Working Group has
made for human rights in the region.”