[Signed by past and present CEDAW Committee members Anamah Tan (Singapore), Heisoo Chin (South Korea), Milena Pires (Timor Leste), Saisuree Chutikul (Thailand), Shanthi Dairiam (Malaysia), CEDAW expert Eleanor Conda (Philippines), one of first CEDAW drafters Leticia Ramos-Shahani (Philippines), and the former special rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Erturk and more than 200 individuals and organizations as of 22 June 2012 AND STILL COUNTING, Add your voice HERE]
In solidarity with ASEAN Women, we ask the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), particularly the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to take cognizance of its mandate in leading the drafting of the AHRD and act to ensure that the Declaration is shaped by a process founded in transparency, inclusiveness and accountability to ASEAN peoples, and results in strengthened institutional understanding and capacity of states to implement its human rights obligations.
We are concerned that since the drafting process of the AHRD began in the first half of 2011, no draft has been circulated to the public for comments. Although we understand that selected national consultations are a first step towards engaging with various communities, we urge the AICHR to hold open national consultations as an integral part of the entire process. The AHRD can be more relevant if it is informed by the realities on the ground. But such feedback can only happen if there are effective mechanisms and processes to engage communities in meaningful dialogue.
The closed nature of the process necessarily forecloses a sense of ownership and pride among the ASEAN community. The possibility that the resulting language and substance of the AHRD will set the bar lower than international human rights standards is a fundamental concern.
The AHRD must not merely refer to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, national constitutions or even the two legally binding documents which all ASEAN member states have ratified : the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). We urge the ASEAN member states to fully incorporate their obligations to international human rights treaties and agreed commitments of the various rights-based global policy documents in shaping the spirit and text of the AHRD.
The AHRD must not shy away from the important gains and struggles of women’s movements around discrimination, the rights to bodily integrity, sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, rights in marriage and family life and freedom of movement and citizenship, especially in a region that is marked by migration, whose dangerous consequences and difficult circumstances have been borne by women and girls. The region’s particularities must inspire AICHR to set the bar higher for women’s human rights. Women from Southeast Asia, through experts and advocates alike and their experiences have informed these gains and struggles. The AICHR can take pride in the achievements spearheaded by ASEAN women’s rights advocates who are part of a worldwide women’s movement by supporting these achievements and preventing these from being diluted or lost.
As a foundational regional human rights document, the AHRD will set the tone for other human rights documents, including an ASEAN Convention on Women, for instance. Being the first in Asia Pacific, the AHRD will also be a model instrument for the rest of the region. A key consideration would be the reversal of the status quo that can potentially undermine international human rights standards.
As advocates ourselves, we urge AICHR to subject the AHRD draft to public consultation and ensure that it adheres to international human rights standards. In line with this, we reiterate that women’s human rights are ASEAN women’s human rights. This is the only way forward for ASEAN to shape the climate for people-centered sustainable development, economic growth and peace and security.