ASEAN urged to form human rights court

ASEAN urged to form human rights court

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Jakarta Post,
Ary Hermawan

A coalition of 70 Asian NGOs called on ASEAN countries Tuesday to create a regional human rights court, amid criticism over the grouping's failure to form a powerful rights commission and to push Myanmar to free Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Solidarity for Asian People's Advocacy Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA-TFAHR) said it had sent an open letter to the high-level panel tasked with drafting the political declaration to the terms of reference (TOR) of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission for Human Rights.

ASEAN recently approved the terms of reference establishing the first-ever human rights commission in the region, which has been widely criticized as powerless and even accused of being no more than "window dressing" for the organization once dubbed an exclusive club of dictators.

Indonesia, one of the only two full-fledged democracies in the region, secured commitments from other countries to sign a political declaration in return for its endorsement of the terms of reference it had earlier strongly opposed.

The declaration will provide a mandate that the rights commission, slated to be officially established in October, will be reviewed every five years.

The ASEAN panel will convene in Jakarta from Aug. 26 to 27.

In their letter, the NGOs said they demanded the regional grouping establish within 10 years a full-fledged regional human rights mechanism, whose standards they said had to be on a par with those of the mechanisms in other regions such as Africa and Europe, which already had rights courts.

"The evolution to develop protection mandates and a full-fledged human rights mechanism may take 100 years, or 10 years, or less," Indonesia's Rafendi Djamin, who co-signed the open letter to the ASEAN panel, said at a press conference in Jakarta.

"We're saying let's set a time frame, the sooner the better, but [it] should be no more than 10 years."

Sinapan Sammydorai, from the Think Center Singapore, said ASEAN countries must set a clear timeline for their human rights agenda, as they did when they decided to make the region a single market by 2015.

Honey Tan, from the ASEAN Women's Caucus, said although the political declaration was merely a declaration and therefore nonbinding, it could be used as an indicator to measure the improvements made by ASEAN.

She said the current TOR to the rights commission "lacked clarity" and "mostly contradict each other".

She also highlighted the fact the TOR did not specifically mention the concept of equality in its principle section, and instead used "negative statements" such as "avoidance of double standards" and "avoidance of politicization".

"If we want to say equality, [then] say equality; don't put it in the negative," she said.

Chalida Tajaroensuk, from Thailand's People's Empowerment Foundation, said the declaration "will serve as a guideline for the direction of the commission in the future.

In the next five years there will be an amendment to the TOR and we hope the protection elements can be included."