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.

Statement of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism on the Situation in Myanmar

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military seized power of the nation by staging a coup and declaring a state of emergency for one year. They arrested and detained Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other senior officials of the National League of Democracy (NLD) in a series of raids before the opening of the parliament on the inauguration day of the continuing NLD majority government. The coup and detentions were carried out because the Myanmar military claims the results of the November 8, 2020 elections, which resulted to a landslide win of the NLD, were marred by voter fraud and the government failed to act on these claims.

The conduct of a free and fair election is a key part of a democratic system. Institution-building and strengthening have always been hallmarks of a working democracy that is founded on the human rights of the people. The coup staged by the Myanmar military shows its blatant disregard of the will of the people. A military take-over is the antithesis of a democracy. Such threatens the exercise of fundamental human rights of the people in Myanmar. If indeed there are issues regarding the conduct of elections in Myanmar, the proper recourse is through the democratic institutions.

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (WG-AHRM) is deeply concerned about these events and considers the actions of the Myanmar military to be an undoing of the progress of Myanmar toward democracy, which had only been established in 2015 after five decades of military rule. The WG-AHRM urges the Myanmar military to respect and uphold the democratic process and the rule of law, and to release Myanmar’s democratically elected leaders.

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. AICHR, as the established regional human rights body in ASEAN, holds a crucial role in the protection of human rights and should be the prominent actor with regard to human rights issues in the region.

As advocates for human rights and the rule of law, the WG-AHRM expresses it support to Myanmar and its people in their struggle for peace and democracy.