ASEAN: Human Rights Body lacks bite

Updated On: Mar 30, 2009

A regional human rights watchdog expected to come into being later this year will have limited scope, but still represents an important first step for Southeast Asia, Philippine Ambassador Rosario Manalo said at a press conference on Friday in Manila.

The controversial ASEAN Human Rights Body is to be launched this October after the terms of reference for its creation is finalized by July. According to Manalo, the head of the High-Level Panel of the Human Rights Body, the Human Rights Body will not have investigative powers. Nor will it have the power to prosecute abusers at the out-set, added Manalo.

The diplomat said the TOR has already been presented to the foreign ministers of the ASEAN member-countries at the ASEAN summit just past, and is currently undergoing revision following their proposals.

The body would not require member-states to set up human-rights institutions. Only the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have formed such institutions.

She defended the Human Rights Body’s limited scope, citing the region’s history which is largely lacking in legal frameworks protecting human rights. “Besides, you can’t negotiate sovereignty”, she stated. The ASEAN observes a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of its member-countries.

“It is not just there is no political will, there is no capacity to create a court presently. We are still getting acquainted with the idea of human rights. We are beginning to confront human rights issues and internalizing them in our own societies. The TOR is allowing for more evolutionary space,” she said.

Manalo said she sees the watchdog initially doing 'promotions' and education in ASEAN, which holds a disparate range of political systems within it; including the military junta of Myanmar, several democracies, Communist Vietnam and the monarchies of Brunei, Thailand and Cambodia.

The Human Rights Body can come up with policy recommendations to member-countries not protecting their people’s human rights. Manalo noted that the Asean secretary-general is empowered to report human-rights violations to the body.

The TOR will be reviewed again in five years’ time.


The Manila Times, Asean struggling with human-rights issues, 28 March 2009, http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2009/march/28/yehey/top_stories/2009...

Asiaonenews, ASEAN rights body better than nothing: Philippines, 27 March 2009,http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Asia/Story/A1Story20090327-13...

Inquirer.net, No probe powers for ASEAN rights body yet, 28 March 2009, http://globalnation.inquirer.net/news/breakingnews/view/20090328-196720/...

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