The “ASEAN Political-Security Community” is designed to promote political and security cooperation among the ASEAN member states and seeks to make it possible for the member states to “live in peace with one another and with the world at large in a just, democratic and harmonious environment. ASEAN formally opened its discussion on creation of an “ASEAN Security Community” (ASC) in 2003 at the Senior Officials’ Meeting. The Twelfth ASEAN Summit expanded the concept of an ASC to include political cooperation in an “ASEAN political-security community” (APSC) and voted to move its formation in 2015.
APSC Blueprint mentions that ASEAN’s cooperation in political development aims to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, with due regard to the rights and responsibilities of the Member States of ASEAN, so as to ultimately create a Rules-based Community of shared values and norms.
In 2010, ASEAN established ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) for the “promotion and protection of human rights” in the region. The other functions of AICHR are to uphold the right of the peoples of ASEAN to live in peace, dignity and prosperity; to promote human rights within the regional context; to enhance regional cooperation with a view to complementing national and international efforts on the promotion of human rights; and to develop human rights in ASEAN states as prescribed by the Universal Declaration of Human rights ( the Vienna Declaration).
However, to ensure the effective implementation of AICHR remains a crucial challenge. There is disagreement among the ASEAN states over the content and the manner of implementation of human rights norms and the lack of enforcement machinery poses formidable obstacles to the achievement of human rights in this region. The natures of states are different as well as the adequate environment of democracy becomes the main reasons of the slowly process within AICHR to enhance and protect human rights. In this regard, how AICHR could attain these challenges and well perform to achieve its objectives?
The diversified agenda on human rights in ASEAN is often problematic issue. Before the formation of AICHR there was no organ in the ASEAN and also no mechanism to follow-up the implementation of human rights related regulations. The financial constraint and lack of consensus among the states are two negative points in maintaining of human rights in ASEAN. In some member states, the issue of human rights remains neglected due to governmental negligence, ineffective media and the silent role of civil society.
During the last five years, AICHR has still unable to build its capacity to adjust to the changing context and structural challenges to protecting human rights. Since its inception, AICHR has faced major problems regarding to balance its role as a political body and as a human rights commission, such as the lack of protection mandate and absence of dedicated secretariat with human rights expertise. The other problem is the gaps in the understanding of the role of regional human rights mechanisms in ASEAN due to lack of access to AICHR at the national and sub regional levels.
To response this situation, ASEAN has launched ASEAN Community Vision 2025. At the pillar of ASPC, ASEAN countries has committed for “an inclusive and responsive community that ensures peoples enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as thrive in a just, democratic, harmonious and gender-sensitive environment in accordance with the principles of democracy, good governance and the rule of law”. This commitment is an opportunity for developing a road map in Southeast Asia on integrating human rights in the ASEAN community pillars.
In this context, AICHR has the opportunity to reach its objectives by working closely with all ASEAN’s stakeholders such as members of parliament in Southeast Asia through their organizations such as the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). AICHR could also maximize the existence of civil society groups in most Southeast Asian countries by giving them the opportunity to be involved in sub regional activities, enhance their capacity to work on sub regional issues and develop sub regional advocacy strategy.
The creation of AICHR is one of the landmarks of a changing ASEAN in the sense that development in this sub region is no longer only about economic growth. ASEAN member countries should give more attention to changing political conditions in ASEAN, including its commitment to human rights, as already mentioned in ASEAN Charter that ASEAN and its member state shall act in accordance with the “respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice.”
To strengthen AICHR, particularly to protect human rights, I propose some recommendations as follows:
- Raise the human rights awareness of the people in ASEAN and have more training activities involving stakeholders;
- Engage civil society more actively in the decision-making process, and open space for stakeholder participation at the national and subregional levels;
- Strengthen cooperation among civil society organizations to take best-practice and learning from experience by each civil society organization in ASEAN.
- Historically, university students play important role to drive the path of their countries in the future. Encourage awareness on human rights among university students and establish dialogue among students to learn and exchange of their views on human rights is the important one.
John D. Ciorciari. “Institutionalizing Human Rights in Southeast Asia” Paper for the International Conference on Issues & Trends in Southeast Asia Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan – Oct. 22, 2010.
Roby Arya Brata. “Building the ASEAN political security community” in Jakarta Post 5 February 2013 available at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/02/05/building-asean-political-security-community.html
Gerard Clarke. “The Evolving ASEAN Human Rights System: The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration of 2012”, Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, Volume 11, Fall 2012.
Tae-Ung Baik. Emerging Regional Human Rights Systems in Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.