4th Roundtable Discussion Examines ASEAN’s New Chapter on Human Rights

See below for an article on the 4th Roundtable Discussion. Ms Braema Mathi and Mr Leong Sze Hian from MARUAH participated in the discussion held in Bangkok, 20-21 November 2008.

4th Roundtable Discussion Examines ASEAN’s New Chapter on Human Rights

In his welcome remarks, Co-Chair Marzuki Darusman of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (Working Group) noted that the 4th Roundtable Discussion on Human Rights in ASEAN (RTD) was being held at an auspicious time. All member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have ratified the ASEAN Charter which has, as its human rights centre-piece, an article which promises the establishment of an ASEAN human rights body (AHRB).

H.E. Virasakdi Futrakul, the permanent secretary for foreign affairs of Thailand, emphasized that the ratification of the Charter marks a new chapter for human rights in ASEAN in his keynote speech. Delivered by Deputy Permanent Secretary Charivat Santaputra, he drew from the RTD’s theme of “Realizing the People-Oriented ASEAN Community with Human Rights” and described the AHRB as one of the manifestations of the commitment to building a people-oriented ASEAN. Citing the regular consultations with regional stakeholders being undertaken by the High Level Panel (HLP) on the AHRB, he asserted that this participation and access by the people should continue once the AHRB is operational.

The chairperson of the HLP, H.E. Sihasak Phuangketkeow, then shared the progress and developments in the drafting of the AHRB’s terms of reference. He also discussed some of the key elements that are being considered by the HLP taking into consideration both the international and regional context.

Other sessions during the RTD focused on the promotion and protection of rights of women and children as well as migrant workers in the ASEAN context, the role of national human rights institutions in the changing environment of ASEAN, and the pending issues for consideration which face the establishment of the AHRB and its relationship with other proposed human rights mechanisms.

Working Group Co-Chair Vitit Muntarbhorn, also an alternate member of the HLP, gave the participants a comprehensive outline of the three ongoing tracks in ASEAN (pertaining to the Charter-based AHRB, the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Women and Children’s Rights (ACWC). The current discussion in ASEAN, he said, favored the “alignment” of these mechanisms.

Participants, comprised of representatives from foreign ministries, government agencies which are responsible for ASEAN cooperation on the rights of women, children and migrant workers, national human rights commissions, as well as members of the Working Group, threshed out exactly how ASEAN’s human rights commitments can be accomplished in this new chapter.

From the floor, representatives from agencies relating to women and children’s issues reported that the focal points for the ASEAN Committee on Women and the Senior Officials Meeting of Social Welfare and Development have resolved to work together and to set up a multidisciplinary Working Group in the first quarter of 2009 as a first step towards the establishment of the ACWC. This move was welcomed by the participants who also affirmed that the ACWC process can and should be independent and separate from the process of establishing the AHRB. They acknowledged that, while there are streamlining issues to consider, these can be dealt with more competently after the establishment of these bodies.

In effect, the participants envisioned an overarching framework where the AHRB is aligned with the proposed commissions (on women and children as well as migrant workers) and has collaborative ties with them.

The RTD was held in Bangkok from November 20-21, 2008, and was jointly organized by the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.

View the Summary of Proceedings of the 4th Roundtable Discussion on Human Rights in ASEAN: Realizing the People-Oriented ASEAN Community with Human Rights here.

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