Human rights activists from Southeast Asia have asked Indonesia to push for the forthcoming Asean human rights declaration to be made public ahead of its ratification in November this year.

The growing demands for the document to be published follows criticism that the draft had been written in secret without public consultation.

Civil society groups from Asean member states, with the exception of Malaysia, conveyed the recommendation to Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa on Friday following a two-day meeting about the draft.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, a senior adviser at the Human Rights Working Group, said on Sunday that the request to release the document was the meeting’s main topic.

“We consider Indonesia as a rights-friendly government and we hope that … Marty can bring this issue up at the upcoming Asean Ministerial Meeting in Cambodia, or at least put it on the table for discussion,” Yuyun said.

The regional rights body in charge of drafting the declaration, the Asean Intergovernmental Human Rights Commission (AICHR), finalized the declaration’s first draft after a much-lauded consultation with regional civil society groups in Kuala Lumpur on June 22.

The draft is scheduled to be presented to the Asean foreign ministers at the 45th Asean Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, next week.

‘For the people’

Yuyun said AICHR commissioners from Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines had been “very creative” in finding ways to convey and discuss the draft contents with the public without breaching confidentiality agreements.

Methods have included translating it into a local language or disclosing particular articles.

The draft will first be submitted to the three countries’ foreign ministers, while people in the remaining seven member states remain in the dark about it until later on in the process.

“This is why we want the foreign ministers to formally instruct AICHR to release the draft to the public to gain more feedback from victims and civil society if it wants to increase its legitimacy and credibility as a people-oriented document. After all, once it is signed in November, it will be for the people,” Yuyun said.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior Thai journalist and long-time commentator on Asean affairs, said there would be never ending debates and amendments if the draft was put before the public ahead of its submission to the foreign ministers.

“The foreign ministers have to see it first before it goes to the public,” he said during a recent visit to Jakarta.

In an interview over the weekend, Marty welcomed the active involvement of civil society in the drafting process.

Indonesia, he said, saw it as “very strategic to make it more people-centered” and to avoid further controversy once the draft was adopted.

“We hope civil society can provide feedback to make this draft perfect,” he said.

He added that Indonesia was committed to seeing the declaration enacted by Asean.

“This is part of Indonesia’s concerns under the Asean Political Security Community and we have determined the adoption of the Asean Human Rights Declaration as one of the priorities,” the minister said.

He added that the Asean foreign ministers would present their views about the draft during their meeting.

“There will be further processes and opportunities for revision through interaction with stakeholders.

“The declaration will set the benchmark to assess the progress of human rights records in Asean,” Marty said.

He added that Indonesia was following the process closely while trying not to take over the process in an effort to maintain the rights body’s independence.

“I hope that the foreign ministers will give us guidance and strengthen what we have achieved and not weaken it,” said Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s commissioner to the AICHR and executive director of Jakarta-based watchdog the Human Rights Working Group.

Progressive elements

Marty dismissed the notion that the different political systems and human rights standards in Asean member states would be a stumbling block for human rights promotion and protection in the region, which has a total population of roughly 580 million people.

“It is a fact of life, but that should not deter us from having a basic regime of human rights in the region. Indonesia does not see this diversity as a constraint to implementing human rights in Asean.

“After all, this is not an overnight process. It is better to have the Asean Human Rights Declaration as a minimum standard of behavior than not to have it at all,” the foreign minister said.

The draft, Marty said, includes basic human rights standards and was written with international rights instruments in mind. Rafendi agreed, saying that concerns that the declaration’s standards would be lower than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action were unfounded.

The draft contains the right to development, which he said was “more progressive even compared to the UN instruments,” while Marty said another progressive element was the right to peace.

“Member states would be required to increase cooperation in order to foster peace and security. This is in accordance with Indonesia’s position that we aggressively wage peace in the region and promotion of human rights is part of that cooperation,” Marty said.

Rena Herdiyani, executive director of Indonesian women’s rights organization Kalyanamitra, urged leaders to include in the declaration the protection of marginalized groups.

She specifically mentioned refugees, undocumented migrants, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

King Oey, a prominent gay rights activist and board member of Arus Pelangi, an LGBT rights organization, said that more than 25 LGBT organizations had banded together to try to help shape the outcome of the draft declaration.

Source: Jakarta Globe


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