Ten years ago, ASEAN established the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), a Commission similar to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in America. If ASEAN is much appreciated as one of the most successful regional organizations after the European Union, it is not the case with the enforcement of human rights. AICHR still lags behind the IACHR in terms of, for example, protecting human rights. Both organizations have acknowledged universal human rights principles and norms, but the IACHR has American Court to address various human rights violations, while the AICHR does not have the same institution because its member countries are still worried about other members’ interference in their domestic matters. Discussing the issue of human rights violations in other member countries is still often considered a taboo, so human rights issues are not addressed properly.
In the article The struggle to uphold a regional human rights regime: the winding role of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) published in Revista Brasileira de Relações Internacionais (RBPI, Vol. 62 – No. 1 – 2019), the author explains that it is only in the last ten years, ASEAN countries have begun to pay attention to the issue of human rights violations that are cross-border and cannot be overcome by individual member countries. The human rights issues that must be addressed in this regional context are very broad, starting from the problems of refugees such as the Rohingya to the problems of the rights of migrant workers. It is after going through various ministerial-level sessions that AICHR has finally been agreed in 2009 but with a very weak mandate.
In the perspective of the human rights regime, AICHR does indeed pass the declaratory regime stage, but it has not yet reached the stage of implementation and enforcement of human rights regimes. The level of human rights regimes in ASEAN may be rightly called the promotional human rights regime. In this level, AICHR representatives from each member country only have the power to introduce and socialize types of human rights to their respective member countries but do not have the authority to comment on or protect human rights violated.
Nevertheless, despite the limitations, the representatives of each country in the AICHR welcomed the organization with enthusiasm. Socialization and promotion of human rights are still important because for a long-time people in ASEAN, especially those who stay in the authoritarian states in ASEAN, only understand their obligations to the state and not their rights as citizens. Some promotional activities carried out by AICHR include the promotion of Rights of People with Disabilities, human rights and Corporate Social Responsibility, rights of migrant workers and campaigns against Trafficking in Persons. AICHR also conducts programs to mainstream the rights to health, food, and juvenile justice. It develops instruments to protect the rights of migrant workers and women.
Moreover, the presence of AICHR at least makes ASEAN have an institution where human rights issues are not a taboo anymore to be discussed. The country that has the turn to be the Chair of ASEAN, at the same time will also be the coordinator of the AICHR. This country will automatically be asked about their programs with the AICHR, and their human rights enforcement efforts. If there are human rights cases in its own country, it must explain how AICHR may have a role to address them. As AICHR coordinator, the country must also hold various meetings with Human Rights Institutions from other Regions. It must also deal with ASEAN dialogue partners, including from the EU and the US, which are critical of human rights issues in Southeast Asia. Each ASEAN country is also given the responsibility to promote one human rights issue and conduct a study about human rights condition in their countries whose results will be reported to the ASEAN meetings.
The presence of the AICHR is thus slowly but surely has changed the platform for discussing human rights issues in this region. It is gradually becoming the center for discussing human rights issues in this area. AICHR must also cooperate with regional human rights organizations in handling and socializing various human rights issues. In addition, it also had to face criticism from various Civil Society Organizations which were critical of the slow pace of AICHR work in responding to various reports of human rights violations. AICHR was also requested by ASEAN members to assist in the process of Universal Periodic Review conducted by the UN toward ASEAN members which have signed UN conventions in certain fields.
In summary, the presence of the AICHR has a positive contribution in the socialization and discussion of human rights, not only at regional but also global levels. In the global level, its existence is in the spotlight and its role is always criticized. While at the regional level, many communities began reporting various human rights problems that they experienced along with increased awareness of human rights among ASEAN people. Conservative ASEAN leaders may still be able to take refuge in the principles of sovereignty they hold. But it is impossible for them to continue to reject the current globalization of human rights and international pressures on various human rights abuses that have occurred in this area. If that is the case, then changes and functions of human rights regime in Southeast Asia from promotional to implementation human rights regimes are not impossible to happen.
Read the article
Hara, Abubakar Eby. (2019). The struggle to uphold a regional human rights regime: the winding role of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 62(1), e011. Epub July 29, 2019.https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201900111
About the author
Abubakar Eby Hara – University of Jember – International Relations, Jember, Indonesia. (firstname.lastname@example.org
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