The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established as a political body which strives to promote regional co-operation on political and economic issues in Southeast Asia.
The ASEAN Charter came into force on the 15 December 2008. It codifies ASEAN norms, rules and values whilst creating a legal framework for the organisation's institutions. The foundational purposes of the Charter include the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, while Article 14 states that ASEAN will establish a human rights body in accordance with the terms of reference to be determined by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting.
There are currently ten members of ASEAN: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
ASEAN's Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
ASEAN opened its Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights in October 2009. The organisation has 10 Commissioners, one from each Member State, and its purposes require it to "promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN", as well as "upholding the right of peoples of ASEAN to live in peace, dignity and prosperity". Within the mandate of the AICHR is the task of developing an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration which, when completed, will provide a roadmap for regional human rights development.
Human rights organisations in the region have stated that the Commission's mandate to "promote human rights within the regional context, bearing in mind national and regional particularities and mutual respect for different historical, cultural and religious backgrounds" is weak, particularly in light of the fact that one of its members, Myanmar, is repeatedly criticised for being one of the world's worst human rights violators. The body lacks the ability to implicate individuals or countries that have committed abuses.
The Commission has also come under fire for its lack of transparency, with eight of the commissioners being appointed by their respective government appointees. Read more on this in Hiding Behind Its Limits: A performance report on the first year of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and Towards an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism: A Concept Paper.
ASEAN Commission on Women and Children (ACWC)
At the 14th ASEAN Summit on 28 Februrary- 1 March 2009, ASEAN Leaders adopted the Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the Roadmap for the ASEAN Community (2009-2015) which emphasised the need to set up a specific body to promote and protect women and children's rights.
The Women and Children's Commission opened in April 2010, tasked with promoting and protecting women and children's rights, building judicial and administrative capacity, and promoting data collection and research. The Commission held its first meeting in February 2011, and has since developed a five year work plan, establishing its priorities, specifically violence against and trafficking of women and children, women and children affected by HIV and AIDS and the protection of the rights of women and children with disabilities.
Each Member State appoints two Commissioners, one for women and one for children. Each Commissioner is appointed for a three year term and may be reappointment for a second consecutive term. The Committee has been criticised by some for a perceived lack of independence, with commentators noting that Commissioners tend to be current and former civil servants rather than independent experts.
Like the AICHR, the ACWC is bound by ASEAN's policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Member States, which is a considerable limit on the Commission's protection mandate. The Commission has also received criticism for its lack of transparency and failure to consult with NGOs.
- ASEAN: Cautious welcome for Women and Children's Commission
- ASEAN: No hope in sight for NGO participation (Jakarta Post, March 2010)
- Transparency campaign: The future of children's rights- in whose hands?
- ASEAN: Human right's body's shaky beginnings (October 2009)
- ASEAN: Submission of child rights groups on the terms of reference of the ASEAN Commission on Women and Children (Southeast Asia Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, September 2009)