29 April, Jakarta
The Terms of Reference (TOR) of AICHR scheduled for its review this year saw its first consultation on 28 and 29th April 2014 in Jakarta, Indonesia. While on 29th April, AICHR conducted consultation with CSOs that included SEA Women’s Caucus on ASEAN members and its co-convenor APWLD.
The TOR review is mandated by Article 9.6 where ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting will undertake the review, while the consultation is as per Article 9.7 where AICHR is to assess its work and submit recommendations for consideration of ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting.
The Consultation, laudable for AICHR’s efforts towards engaging with CSOs further establishes that CSOs are being more viewed as partners. This historic TOR Review opens up opportunities to further strengthen AICHR in its contribution for progress towards enjoyment of human rights.
In the past five years, AICHR has contributed to elevating human rights agenda within the ASEAN structures and processes. One example would be the development of the ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights although it fell short of existing international human rights norms and standards. AICHR has also succeeded in gaining attention of ASEAN Member states on human rights, albeit to limited extent.
The first Consultation indeed gave opportunity to civil societies to provide their stronger emphasis on need to review concerning arenas (as highlighted by Misun/APWLD) like:
- limitations that the current TOR presents including lack of protection mandates;
- restrictive or non-progressive interpretation of existing TOR; and
- absence of institutionalized engagement with civil society, particularly with women and the most marginalised.
For instance, Misun stated “the existing mandate element of conducting inquiry has not been utilised with a capacity to make systemic recommendations and a political will to implement them, which have proven to be valuable in other jurisdictions”
One of the biggest limitations, the principle of non-interference (2.1, b), which Maria Chin Abdullah and Braema Mathi put as ‘stumbling block’, was most emphasized by civil societies present in the consultation. As Shanthi Dairam rightly said, “in this 21st century of global inter-dependence, principle of non-interference, and national, religious, cultural particularities are not acceptable whilst addressing violations and ensuring fulfillment of state obligations to protect human rights.” If principle of Non-interference is not dismissible, Dairam suggested “One useful way forward could be to develop indicators of situations when the principle of non-interference cannot apply”.
Emphasizing on importance of recognizing AICHR as a charter-based (similar to UN Human Rights Council), overarching human rights body of ASEAN, Misun stressed “this will mean that AICHR will have the mandate to intervene in all human rights related concerns across the three pillars of ASEAN, not only limited to political security pillar.”
Non-transparency, difficulty in accessing information, accessing the representatives was another challenge shared and emphasized during the consultation. It was noted that in countries where civil society were part of nomination processes, the representatives to AICHR have been more accessible and independent to conduct their mandates more effectively.
Meanwhile, the national processes of selection of CSO representatives for this very consultation itself were unclear in most countries. There were arbitrary selections of CSOs that were allies with government structure and there was also rejection of CSOs selected representatives, like in the case of Cambodia. There was no timely information on representatives attending CSOs consultation, let alone the process being transparent.
The need to pay attention on the impact of ASEAN economic policies, especially the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint that leaves out experiences of women in ASEAN was also remarked by APWLD and/or Women’s Caucus members. Titi Soentoro explained “women comprise large chunk of informal labor sector which is marked by many human rights violations, particularly violations of women’s economic rights, including deprivation of decent work and living wage, loss of livelihoods and of labor rights protection, and violence against women.”
On the similar line, Shanthi Dairam also sounded off on need of including economic rights into AICHR’s TOR and its activities.
Meanwhile Misun further shed light that “Sovereignty is an important principle that requires states to take action to fulfill human rights for any violations including non-state actors. Yet, states regularly surrender sovereignty to corporate and other states through trade agreements and binding rules of international financial and trade institutions such as World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Asian Development Bank (ADB). Fulfilling AICHR’s mandate as an overarching human rights body of ASEAN would also mean that it will effectively facilitate policy coherence of ASEAN firmly based on human rights norms and principles”.
Lastly, it was hopeful to see AICHR representatives taking in and discussing upon the recommendations and points put forth by the CSOs. However, WC members wish that the consultation was attended by all AICHR representatives. Women’s Caucus hopes that recommendations are going to be incorporated and put to good use. Chang further states “Much work remains to push for the AICHR to be serious and to be willing to exert “political will” so they can maximize their mandate as the “overarching human rights body, representatives should work around (or even beyond) their limits”.
The succeeding consultation with international stakeholders and CSOs shall take place in end of June 2014 and subsequently the recommendations to Foreign Ministers in August 2014.