Stronger mandate sought for AICHR

Regional civil society organisations are seeking more independency for the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and a clearer protection mandate as Asean begins reviewing the agency's terms of reference (ToR) after five years.

Regional groups led by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), South East Asian Committee for Advocacy (SEACA), and People Empowerment Foundation  have appealed for the change at the 47th Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting (AMM), being held in the Myanmar national capital,  Nay Pyi Taw

On Friday the AMM was discussing the AICHR's assessment of its work and recommendations on TOR, and was due to announced how the review would be done.

Article 9.6 of the terms of reference state the ToR should be reviewed five years after coming into force, to improve the protection and promotion of human rights within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The AICHR was launched during Thailand's term as  chairman of the regional grouping.

Two regional consultations in Jakarta and Bangkok have been held this year by the AICHR, with several regional and local CSOs participating.

CSOs realise the final say rests with the AMM, hence an appeal that the AICHR be equipped with a stronger protection mandate and support to address human rights situations in the region, be provided with stronger secretariat support, have greater independence and be enhanced to liaise more with other Asean bodies - particularly the Asean Commission on Women and Children, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and civil society.

"The review process of the ToR of the AICHR should be conducted through a transparent, accountable, and participatory process open to wider stakeholders at national and regional levels," said the statement.

Human rights experts, NHRIs and CSOs should be included in the setting-up of any task force for the review of the ToR.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, of the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) from Indonesia, has also urged Asean to take a comprehensive view on strengthening the Asean Secretariat and reviewing  Asean organs including the AICHR.

"Currently, there has been a discussion on re-structuring the Asean Secretariat. I am wondering whether a secretariat of the AICHR will be included. The idea of having an AICHR secretariat was agreed on t the foreign ministers' meeting in 2012," said Ms Yuyun.

Other regional human right mechanisms around the world have called for a stronger role of the secretariat to make the work of dealing with human rights issues more effective -- engaging with both government and civil society, as well as the other organs in the regional institutions, she said.

She also suggested that the civil society take stock on to what extent the charter has been implemented, what has been the impact, and what would be the recommendation for the process. After all, article 14 of the charter is about the establishment of the Asean human rights body, Ms Yuyun said.

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