Yesterday, leaders of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) on the occasion of the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The civil society and United Nations officials had previously expressed concerns regarding the drafting process and the lack of publicity of the works of the drafting committee. The AHRD was finally made public on Sunday evening, following its formal adoption. Despite the last-minute addition of a paragraph requiring members to enforce the declaration with a level of commitment accorded to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the AHRD fails to meet international standards. Indeed, the drafting committee disregarded the recommendations formulated by the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and maintained provisions limiting human rights to national law and seeking to “balance” rights with individual duties.
The declaration has been rejected by a common statement of fifty-seven civil society organizations stating that the declaration falls far below international standards. The statement denounces provisions which could serve to provide “ready-made justifications for human rights violations of people within the jurisdiction of ASEAN governments” and the absence of several rights, including the right to freedom of association and the right to be free from enforced disappearance.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed similar concerns and hopes for improvement: “Other regions have shown how regional human rights systems can evolve and improve over time, and I am confident this will be the same for ASEAN”, Mrs. Pillay said. “Looking ahead, it is essential that ASEAN ensures that any language inconsistent with international human rights standards does not become a part of any binding regional human rights convention.”