Pressing Forward in 2007-
Working Group to Advance VAP Provisions on Human Rights,
Lobby for Human Rights Commission in ASEAN Charter
It’s only the beginning of the year but interesting
developments for human rights are fast taking place in
the region. Foremost among these is the cooperation among
the national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in ASEAN
and the possibility of establishing a human rights commission
in the ASEAN Charter. These were included in the strategy
planning meeting of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human
Rights Mechanism (Working Group) in Manila, Philippines
last March 21-22, 2007.
The NHRIs of the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and
Malaysia are working to have a Declaration of Cooperation.
This will formalize their ties and create synergized efforts.
The Working Group is keen to meet with the NHRIs more
frequently in 2007 for joint human rights activities.
Networking among existing national human rights institutions
in the region is one of the human rights provisions of
the Vientiane Action Programme (VAP). The Working Group,
which was tasked by ASEAN in 2005 to help implement the
VAP human rights provisions, also keeps track of such
developments in the region.
One of the VAP provisions is the establishment of more
NHRIs in the region. Representatives from the Cambodian
government and civil society groups have formed a joint
committee to draft a law that will provide for the establishment
of a Cambodian NHRI. Kem Sokha, chairperson of the Cambodian
Working Group (CWG), is involved in the initiative. The
Working Group will be assisting CWG create proposals to
fund activities which will aid in the drafting of the
law, such as commissioning human rights experts for inputs.
On the sidelines of their strategic planning, Working
Group members had the opportunity to meet with Ambassador
Rosario Manalo, chairperson of the High Level Task Force
(HLTF) of senior ASEAN officials who are currently drafting
the ASEAN Charter. There was an exchange of views on what
a human rights commission would imply. The HLTF will be
submitting their draft to ASEAN heads of state by November
2007. Working Group members intend to discuss with their
respective national governments for the inclusion of the
ASEAN human rights commission in the final Charter.
In his introductory note, Malaysian Working Group Chair
and former U.N rapporteur Dato Param Cumaraswamy said:
“For 12 years we have been working hard for an ASEAN
human rights mechanism. Finally we see a light of hope.
The challenge now is to formulate what shape the mechanism
will take.” As opportunities for human rights in
the region grow bigger, hopefully so will the role of
the Working Group.