Asean Charter Drafted:
Human Rights Body Expected to be One of the Organs
Finished with the drafting of the
ASEAN Charter, the high level task force pose together
one last time.
The High Level Task Force (HLTF) on the Drafting of the
ASEAN Charter has concluded its work of drafting the Charter
of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Aside from giving ASEAN its legal personality, the ASEAN
Charter moves ASEAN from a loosely-organized regional
body towards a more rules-based organization.
One of the expected and much anticipated key feature
of the ASEAN Charter is the establishment on an ASEAN
human rights body as an organ of ASEAN. During the 40th
ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila last July 2007, the
ASEAN Foreign Ministers agreed to include a provision
in the ASEAN Charter that mandates the creation of a human
rights body. ¹
In one of the Philippine consultations conducted by Ambassador
Rosario Manalo, Philippine HLTF member and former chair
of the HLTF, shared that the article on the human rights
body will be worded as follows: “In conformity with
the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter relating
to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental
freedoms, ASEAN shall establish an ASEAN human rights
The establishment of an ASEAN human rights body, however,
is not automatic. The powers, functions, mandate, as well
as details of such body, depends on the terms of reference
(TOR) that still has to be drawn up.
“The incorporation of a human rights body as an
organ of ASEAN is expected to be a breakthrough for human
rights in this region and we very much welcome this development.
In order to ensure that this becomes an effective tool
to promote and protect human rights, the peoples of ASEAN
should make known to our leaders that what we want is
a body with teeth, and not only a paper tiger,”
said Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism
(Working Group) Secretary-General Carlos Medina.
Malaysian Working Group Chair Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy
said that a TOR and a timeframe for completion for the
proposed human rights body must also be drawn as soon
as the Charter is signed. “ASEAN civil society must
push their leaders to adopt a TOR and time frame without
delay so that the human rights body may be established
soonest. Without this commitment, we will be aiming too
high but achieve nothing,” he expressed.
As part of its principles and purposes, ASEAN has committed
in the Charter 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,” by upholding the United Nations
Charter and international law, including international
humanitarian law, and taking into consideration the goal
of having a “people-oriented” ASEAN.
It can be recalled that the decisions to establish an
ASEAN Charter are contained in the Vientiane
Action Programme, the Kuala
Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Charter
and the Cebu Declaration on the Blueprint of the ASEAN
To prepare for the drafting of the Charter, ASEAN established
an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to examine and provide
practical recommendations on the directions and nature
of the ASEAN Charter. The EPG
Recommendations became one of the sources for the
provisions of the Charter, together with existing legal
commitments of ASEAN, decisions of the ASEAN leaders,
guidance by the ASEAN foreign ministers, and results of
the consultations conducted by the HLTF.
The HLTF started its work right after the 12th
ASEAN Summit in Manila with Ambassador Manalo as chair.
Professor Tommy Koh (HLTF member of Singapore) took over
as soon as the chairmanship of ASEAN was turned over to
The ASEAN Charter is expected to be signed by the ASEAN
leaders during the 13th
ASEAN Summit 18-21 November 2007 in Singapore.
The Working Group has been advocating for the establishment
of an ASEAN human rights mechanism since 1996, pursuant
to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Joint
Communiqué in 1993 in Singapore wherein they
“agreed that ASEAN should also consider the establishment
of an appropriate regional mechanism on human rights.”
The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism
has been meeting with ASEAN, through its senior officials,
since 1996. As early as 1999, ASEAN urged the Working
Group to present a proposal for an appropriate human rights
regional mechanism. After a series of expert meetings
and consultations, the Working Group recommended the establishment
of a regional human rights commission to ASEAN as the
appropriate mechanism. Thus, during the meeting with the
ASEAN Senior Officials in Bangkok in 2000, the Working
Group submitted a working document entitled Draft
Agreement for the Establishment of the ASEAN Human Rights
Commission for the consideration of ASEAN.
¹ Statement of Philippine Foreign
Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo, chairman of the 40th
ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, regarding the meeting between
the ASEAN Foreign Ministers and the High Level Task Force
on the Drafting of the ASEAN Charter.