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ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights welcomed by MRG

6 August 2009

MRG welcomes the recent creation of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights as an important step towards the promotion of human rights in Southeast Asia.

On 20 July 2009, Foreign Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted the final draft of the Terms of Reference for the new Commission. Although the drafting process was shaped by input from both the national governments of ASEAN member-states and from civil society, MRG is concerned that the Terms of Reference lack several important components including sufficient investigative powers, a clear protection mandate, and safeguards to insure the impartiality and independence of Commission members. Without these features, ASEAN may not be able to effectively protect the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.

Additionally, the Commission will operate “based on consultation and consensus” in accordance with the principle of “non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN Member States”. While recognizing the principle of state sovereignity, MRG is concerned that this language may enable national governments to block actions taken by the Commission. This would allow ASEAN members to avoid scrutiny for even the most egregious human rights violations. It is the hope of MRG that the emphasis on consensus in decision-making will not interfere with the protection of ASEAN’s minority communities.

According to the terms, the Commission will take an “evolutionary approach” to the “development of human rights norms and standards”. Given this possibility, MRG urges the Commission, once established, to develop and establish specific provisions for the recognition and protection of minorities and indigenous groups in the region. It is noted, with regret, that minorities face dire situations in many ASEAN member-states. In particular, MRG joins the international community in voicing its concern regarding the challenges faced by Myanmar’s minority communities including, among others, the Karen and Rohingya. MRG urges the new Commission to invoke its “evolutionary approach” to create a strong protection mechanism for these and other vulnerable groups.