Statement of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights on the Cambodia’s Attack on Press Freedom

On Monday, February 13, 2023, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the closure of the Voice of Democracy (VOD), one of Cambodia’s last remaining independent media outlets, after a report by VOD that the deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Army Hun Manet, who is also the eldest son of Hun Sen, had signed off on foreign aid packages outside of his authority. According to Hun Sen, this report had damaged the Cambodian government’s reputation, and demanded for an apology.

Free speech and expression are critical to achieving true democracy and holding power to account. With Cambodia's upcoming national elections in July of this year, this shutdown is an attempt to control the public narrative. Rather than closing an independent media outlet, a democratic government should have conducted an investigation into the alleged unauthorized signing off of foreign aid. Media repression disables the press to fulfill its duty as the fourth estate to be society’s watchdog and whistleblower against government violations, abuse, and corruption. Free and independent journalists are needed to keep the people informed, defend the truth and ensure accountability.

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism condemns the attacks against independent media outlets and the continued harassment of journalists in Cambodia. The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration states that “[e]very person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information, whether orally, in writing or through any other medium of that person’s choice.”[1] This should not only be words on paper.

We urge the Cambodian government to uphold its commitment to the ASEAN Charter to adhere to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government by ceasing and desisting from all forms of attacks against independent media outlets, and enabling a safe environment for journalists.[2]

We call upon the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to respond with immediate and appropriate action and fulfill its mandate to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN.

We also call on all ASEAN member states to stand by their commitments to and call for greater press freedom in the region.


[1] ASEAN Human Rights Declaration

[2] ASEAN Charter

Statement on the Executions and Human Rights Crisis in Myanmar

On July 25, 2022, Myanmar’s military authorities carried out the execution of four political prisoners, namely Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former hip-hop star turned National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker, Kyaw Min Yu, known as “Ko Jimmy”, a veteran of the 88 Generation Students Group - a Burmese pro-democracy movement known for their activism against the military junta in the 1988 student uprising, and two other pro-democracy activists, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw. The political prisoners were sentenced to death in January 2022 in a close-door trial for aiding "terror acts" by a civilian resistance movement.

The executions are the first in Myanmar in more than three decades.

The executions, which have been unanimously condemned by the United Nations (UN) Security Council, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the international community, mark the atrocious escalation in state repression and a further regression in the human rights situation in Myanmar since the military coup in 2021.

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism is deeply appalled and strongly condemns the executions conducted, the depraved acts of violence, and the blatant disregard of human rights. We urge the Myanmar military to cease all violence against civilians, including the arbitrary executions and arrests and for the immediate and unconditional release of all persons arbitrarily detained. We further call on the Myanmar military authorities to uphold the respect for the rule of law, human rights, and the restoration of the democratically elected Government.

The act of serious human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar junta suggests a complete disregard of the five (5) points’ consensus [1] agreed at the Jakarta Summit on 24 April 2021 between the ASEAN leaders and Myanmar junta chief, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing since the human rights situation in Myanmar has worsened with the brutal nationwide crackdown at suppressing the opposition to military rule.

As the violence in Myanmar continues, we call on the ASEAN member-states to act decisively and hold the Myanmar military authorities accountable for its failure to take concrete actions to effectively and fully implement the Five Point Consensus (5PC) reached at the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting. We also call for the ASEAN Human Rights bodies to initiate investigation into ongoing human rights violations since the coup d’etat in February 2021.

The ASEAN’s aspirations for lasting peace and stability will remain hollow words unless it demonstrates collective effort in chartering the genuine “justice for the people of Myanmar” and the resolution of the human rights and humanitarian crisis through forwarding strong measures to deter atrocities, extending protection and humanitarian assistance to the refugees, internally-displaced persons (IDPs), and migrants, and preventing the loss of life and the suffering of the people of Myanmar.


[1] Five (5) points: an immediate end to violence in the country; dialogue among all parties; the appointment of a special envoy; humanitarian assistance by ASEAN; and the special envoy’s visit to Myanmar to meet with all parties.

WG-AHRM holds Regional Workshop on Effective Regional Human Rights Mechanisms

MANILA, August 20, 2021 — The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (Working Group) organized the “Regional Workshop on Effective Regional Human Rights Mechanisms” via Zoom last July 29 to 30, 2021. The workshop aimed to inform and update the participants on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights’ (AICHR) ongoing and upcoming projects and discuss opportunities to further strengthen AICHR’s protection mandate.

The workshop was divided into two forums across various sessions.  

In Session 1 of the first forum, Prof. Dr. Amara Pongsapich, the representative of Thailand to the AICHR, shared the salient points and issues that were discussed during the recent regional dialogue among former and current AICHR representatives and members of the High-Level Panel that drafted the AICHR’s Terms of Reference (TOR).

The second session saw a discussion by experts from Africa, Europe, and the Americas of how other regional human rights mechanisms function amidst concerns regarding state sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of member states. The African System was discussed by Prof. Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights in the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria, the European System by Dr. Woflgang Heinz, former vice president of the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture, and the Inter-American System by Prof. Christina Cerna, co-chair of the Human Rights in States of Emergency Committee of the International Law Association.

An open discussion followed which was moderated by Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree, Working Group Co-Chair and former Representative of Thailand to the AICHR. The participants shared their suggestions and recommendations on how ASEAN and AICHR can move forward to effectively fulfill the latter’s protection mandate. The discussion provided insights and reflections that AICHR can use for stronger protection and promotion functions. It also reiterated that the sovereignty of states is not a barrier to create robust mechanisms on human rights with independent experts as members.

The first forum was attended by current and former representatives of AICHR, participants from Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and participants fromcivil society organizations in ASEAN. 

The second forum of the workshop was a closed session among current and former representatives of AICHR, some representatives of Ministries of Foreign Affairs of ASEAN Member States. It was moderated by Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn, former Co-Chair of the Working Group. 

Prof. Muntarbhorn emphasized the point that the protection and promotion of human rights do not infringe the principles of sovereignty and non-interference as these can co-exist. The discussions focused on who the key actors are, what actions should be taken next, and how to constructively engage through a strategic and multi-tracked approach to address the need to strengthen human rights protection and promotion in the region.

The workshop was made possible with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Call for Action on the Crisis in Myanmar by the The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (Working Group) registers its continued opposition and condemnation of the seizure of power in Myanmar by the Tatmadaw[1] and its use of violence and force against the people of Myanmar who are carrying out mass demonstrations to express their dissent against the coup and the arrest of their democratically elected leaders. The Working Group is alarmed by the mounting violence against the protesters whose numbers have grown, spreading out beyond the capital and other cities to the countryside. According to reports, the post-coup military crackdown has resulted in more than 3,000 arrests with a rising death toll of more than 700 civilians as of this writing.

The Working Group supports an initiative led by some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) calling for an ASEAN Special Meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. The Working Group reiterates one of ASEAN’s purposes, as enshrined in the ASEAN Charter: to maintain peace, security, and stability in the region and to work towards a rule-based, people-oriented and people-centered community by strengthening democracy, good governance, the rule of law, as well as the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In support of the ASEAN call for a special meeting, the Working Group recommends that:

  • the Tatmadaw to immediately cease violence against the people in the country and hand back the power and control of the Government to democratically-elected rightful leaders of Myanmar;
  • the ASEAN leaders formally direct the Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to monitor the human rights situation in Myanmar in the event that Myanmar does not do so on its own; and
  • the AICHR exercise its mandate and monitor the human rights situation in Myanmar pursuant to its duty to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN; and
  • the ASEAN and its Member States, both collectively and individually, use their authority to persuade the Tatmadaw to adhere to the ASEAN Principles of rule of law, good governance, democracy, and constitutional government; and respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights and social justice.

The Working Group reiterates that the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a State should not be interpreted to include the usurpation of power and sustained violence. ASEAN must act to effectively stop the brutal crackdown by the Tatmadaw on the peoples of Myanmar and to restore democracy throughout the country. ASEAN must take concrete steps to uphold its cherished values of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in the region.

[1] Official name of the armed forces of Myanmar.