Rights may improve in RI-led ASEAN

Rights may improve in RI-led ASEAN
, 19 October 2010

Hope is high for Indonesia, which will take over an ASEAN chair next year, to push for improvement in human rights in the region through the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

Activists and experts said they believed the AICHR would be able to show its teeth under Indonesia’s leadership.

“[With Indonesia chairing ASEAN next year, the AICHR] has to be able to fit itself in,” Human Rights Resource Center for ASEAN (HRRCA) director Marzuki Darusman said in a discussion Monday that was organized by the HRRCA and the National Commission for Human Rights.

“The timing is ideal because after this Brunei and Cambodia [will chair ASEAN in 2012 and 2013, respectively]. [By then human rights issues will be] a grey area,” he said.

Brunei is deemed to have no practical democracy due to its system of absolute monarchy, while many critics have questioned Cambodia’s commitment to human rights.

Marzuki said next year was the time for the AICHR to determine how it would build its relationship with civil society as part of its efforts to promote human rights.

The chairwoman of Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at the Habibie Center, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, agreed with Marzuki, saying that Indonesia was the only country that could bring about improvement in democracy in the region.

Indonesia is currently the only country in the region that is seen as having a fully free democracy, as democracy deficits abound in other parts of the region, she said.

Dewi added that since being established last year, the AICHR had managed to indirectly influence ASEAN countries that did not have a national commission for human rights to set one up, adding that Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand were the only countries in the region that already had such commissions.

“If ASEAN member states don’t have a national commission for human rights, who will represent them in and partner with the AICHR?” Dewi said.

However, Brunei was heading in that direction, she added, citing a statement by Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah when he gave a keynote speech at the Bali Democracy Forum.

“Sultan Bolkiah quoted Chinese President Hu Jintao who said, ‘Democracy is inevitable’,” Dewi said.

“Imagine that. Even the leader of the most authoritarian country said that.”

Indonesia’s representative to the AICHR, Rafendi Djamin, said the newly established commission had also managed to bring Vietnam — ASEAN chair this year — to speak up on human rights.

Dewi said Indonesia’s chairmanship of ASEAN may positively impact human rights in the region, particularly in Myanmar, as Indonesia was a country where military still enjoyed impunity.

“Military [officers] can still run for president in an environment of blossoming democracy,” she said. “[In this case] Myanmar should look at Indonesia as an example.”