Working Group for ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

Chairpersons of the Working Group and the National Working Groups

Who we are

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism’s (Working Group) primary goal is to establish an intergovernmental human rights commission for ASEAN. It is a coalition of national working groups from ASEAN states which are composed of representatives of government institutions, parliamentary human rights committees, the academe, and NGOs. Working Group follows a step-by-step, constructive and consultative approach when it engages governments and other key players in the region.

Our work

The Working Group is recommends several options in proposing for a human rights mechanism. The mechanism may include:

  • A declaration of principles
  • A commission with monitoring, promotional, and recommendatory functions. It may also receive complaints from states and/or individuals. It may cover all rights, or initially, be issue-specific where it focuses only on the rights of migrants or other vulnerable groups. Another option is having human rights commissions in all ASEAN countries. A mechanism can be born when they begin coordinating efforts.
  • A court which could render binding decisions.
Among these options, the Working Group strongly recommended the establishment of an intergovernmental human rights commission. In fact in 2009, during the ASEAN Summit, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights or AICHR was inaugurated and launched in Cha-am Hua Hin, Thailand.

The need for an ASEAN human rights mechanism

Many kinds of human rights violations take place in Southeast Asia and a regional mechanism can help address this problem. First, the mechanism will ensure that ASEAN member states all adhere to international human rights standards. Second, the mechanism provides a common platform where ASEAN member states, being socio-politically different from each other, can articulate their human rights-related concerns. Lastly, with a human rights mechanism, the region can cooperate to address violations and collectively show its stand on human rights-related issues.

Benefits of a regional human rights mechanism

The mechanism can:

  • Assist ASEAN member states in addressing human rights concerns in their respective areas of jurisdiction;
  • Ensure that international human rights laws are observed and implemented by ASEAN countries who have agreed to them;
  • Help ASEAN people have a common understanding of universal human rights issues and perspectives.

The promise of an ASEAN human rights mechanism

In 1993, the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action emphasized the need “to consider the possibility of establishing regional and sub-regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights where they do not already exist”. In the same year, the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organization (AIPO) stated that “it is…the task and responsibility of member states to establish an appropriate regional mechanism on human rights” in its Declaration on Human Rights.

A growing partnership with ASEAN is creating opportunities for the eventual creation of an intergovernmental commission:

1993
ASEAN articulates the need for an intergovernmental human rights body when its foreign ministers “agree[d] that ASEAN should also consider the establishment of an appropriate regional mechanism on human rights”. (Singapore)

1995
The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (Working Group) is created by the Human Rights Committee of LAWASIA to push for the creation of an inter-governmental human rights body. (Manila)

1998
ASEAN Foreign Ministers acknowledge the Working Group and note the importance of continuing dialogues between the two parties on the issue of setting up a human rights mechanism. (Manila)

2000
The Working Group submits a Draft Agreement for the Establishment of the ASEAN Human Rights Commission to ASEAN senior officials. Working Group meetings with senior officials begin and are “noted with appreciation” by the Foreign Ministers in joint communiqués. (Bangkok)

2001
The Working Group organizes its first Workshop on an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism attended by representatives of governments, NHRIs, and CSOs. (Jakarta)
[Subsequent workshops are held in Manila (2002, 2007), Bangkok (2003, 2009), Jakarta (2004), Kuala Lumpur (2006), and Singapore (2008). The workshops are jointly organized by the Working Group, a host ASEAN state (through its foreign ministry) and its NHRI (if any).

2004
ASEAN adopts the Vientiane Action Program (VAP) which lists human rights action points with a 2010 deadline. (Vientiane)

2005
ASEAN asks the assistance of the Working Group in implementing the VAP’s human rights provisions. The Working Group starts convening workshops, RTDs and meetings on the issues of migrant workers’ rights, women and children’s rights, human rights education and networking among NHRIs. (Vientiane)

The Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Charter establishes an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to give “bold and visionary” recommendations for the Charter. (Kuala Lumpur)

2006
The EPG submits its report to the ASEAN Summit. (Manila)

[Throughout the year, the EPG consulted parliamentarians, ministers, the academe, and civil society to get ideas on the Charter. The EPG Report includes a provision that the ASEAN human rights mechanism is “[a] worthy idea [that] should be pursued further”.]

2007
ASEAN adopts the Cebu Declaration on the Blueprint of the ASEAN Charter; ASEAN Leaders endorse the EPG Report to the High Level Task Force (HLTF) created to draft the Charter. (Cebu)

ASEAN NHRIs (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand) formalize support for a regional mechanism by signing a Declaration of Cooperation which includes a provision on recommending steps that could be taken in establishing an ASEAN human rights mechanism to their respective governments. (Bali)

Article 14 of the proposed ASEAN Charter mandates the establishment of an ASEAN human rights body “in conformity with the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. (Singapore)

2008
ASEAN Foreign Ministers create a High Level Panel (HLP) to draft the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the ASEAN human rights body. (Singapore)

The ASEAN Charter is ratified by all 10 ASEAN Member-States. (Jakarta)

2009
The ToR for the establishment of an ASEAN human rights body is adopted and approved by the Foreign Ministers. (Phuket)

The AICHR is launched during the ASEAN Summit. ASEAN Member-States appoint their representatives to the AICHR. (Cha-am Hua Hin)

Working Group is also encouraged by the progress of the national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in ASEAN States. The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand already have NHRIs, with Cambodia promising to follow suit. Poised to sign a declaration of cooperation among themselves, Working Group believes that cooperation among NHRIs is a precursor to an intergovernmental human rights mechanism.

With these developments at hand, the possibility of having a regional human rights mechanism may not be as unlikely as it seems.