WC Letter to Foreign Ministers on the AHRD (27 Sept. 2012)

The Women’s Caucus makes an appeal to the foreign ministers to omit “public morality” from the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). It also urges the ministers to integrate women’s human rights, make the draft AHRD public and delay the AHRD’s approval. The letter was also sent to the ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuan and Deputy Secretary General for Political-Security Community Nyan Lynn and representatives of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). The foreign ministers are scheduled to have an informal meeting on 27 September 2012, 3-5 pm at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, United States. PDF File Here

Dear Your Excellency,

Warmest greetings from the Southeast Asian Women’s Caucus on ASEAN.

We write to reiterate our key recommendations to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) as you review the latest draft of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

A. Omitting “public morality” from the AHRD
It is unfortunate that despite the support of some AICHR representatives during the first CSO regional consultation in June 2012, “public morality” as a general limitation to human rights remains in the draft AHRD. As we previously argued, even though “morality” is included in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the concept has never been defined in succeeding international human rights documents. Worse, its application has been based on the dominant patriarchal and religious hierarchies and has been targeting the rights of women and girls. The term is also not present in all the constitutions of ASEAN member states. With such arbitrariness that has resulted in countless violation of women’s human rights, we urge you to omit “public morality” from the AHRD. Such action will not contradict the constitutions of ASEAN member states. Instead, it will enable the AHRD to add value to existing international human rights standards. Moreover, we urge that limitations on human rights be deleted in the AHRD’s general principles. Attached is a paper that was produced by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and that compiles the opinions of international feminist legal and human rights experts on this issue.

B. An AHRD that follows and adds value to international human rights standards
The AHRD must follow and enhance international human rights standards by making the AHRD reflective of realities and aspirations of the region’s communities, especially women and girls. For example, it must recognize that sexual health and rights have their own specificity that they have as much importance as reproductive health and rights. Female genital mutilation not only poses risks on one’s child-bearing activity but one’s sexual well-being. Slavery, servitude and trafficking must be appreciated beyond being transnational crimes, instead as a violation of the individual right to self-determination which includes the right to bodily integrity, freedom of movement and right to relationships. The AHRD must confront issues which are otherwise thorny yet endemic to the region such as migration, refugees and citizenship. We are attaching to this letter all the three papers (submitted on 21 October 2011, 22 June 2012 and 12 September 2012 respectively) that we have submitted to AICHR.

C. Open the draft to the public
We urge the public dissemination of the draft AHRD for comments. We appreciate the second regional civil society consultation that AICHR organized on 12 September 2012 in Manila, Philippines. In articulating our inputs, AICHR allowed us to use as a reference the draft AHRD (version as of June 2012), which had been circulating through the internet for at least two weeks. There was no consensus to formally publish the draft AHRD and with this in our hands, however clandestinely we obtained it, facilitated the conversation between selected CSOs and AICHR. This kind of conversation must be continued to improve the AHRD and enhance civil society’s ownership of the AHRD. Moreover the AHRD draft resulting from the consultation and AICHR’s meeting must be shared. As in the last regional CSO consultation in June 2012, we have not received an updated copy of the draft, which has been transmitted to the foreign ministers.

D. Delay the approval of the AHRD
Although AICHR has spent nearly two years on the AHRD, consultations have been few and limited. Some of them were also rushed. In most cases, the participants had no copy of the draft. The last regional consultation was probably the most ideal, even as it left much to be desired: limited time, remote and expensive venue, unfriendly to people with disabilities, among others. Yet a consultation like this should have been the norm, rather than the exception in the last two years. It is for this reason that we ask the foreign ministers to rethink the timetable towards the approval of the AHRD. As we noted, the sense of ownership and meaningful participation in drafting the declaration is an equally important legacy.

We hope that you will seriously take these points into consideration.  We would also appreciate if you could give us a feedback on this letter.

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