In 2007, Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted the ASEAN Charter. Article 14 of the Charter provided that ASEAN shall establish a “human rights body”.
In July 2009, the ASEAN Foreign Minister Meeting adopted the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). During the 15th ASEAN Summit in Thailand, in October 2009, ten AICHR Representatives were appointed, one from each Member State. The AICHR was then formally inaugurated.
The AICHR is the body that has an overall responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights in the ASEAN. As the overarching human rights body in the region, it is required to coordinate and cooperate closely with all other ASEAN sectoral bodies that deal with human rights. It is characterized as a “consultative inter-governmental body”. (more…)
States and non-state actors continue to commit violations with impunity, including police brutality, torture and enforced disappearances, against civil society activists. For example, the lack of immediate and transparent investigation into the case of Sombath Somphone by ASEAN governments, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), or any other human rights mechanisms in the region. Human rights defenders continue to be persecuted under oppressive laws, including laws against activities as “injuring the national unity”, “propaganda against the State“, “abusing democratic freedoms” and sedition laws, which deny the people safe and constructive political space.
From the CSO Statement for the 2015 ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum to be held 21-24 April in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights: 22 January 2015
We would also seek to draw your attention to the dangers facing human rights defenders and civil society actors all across Southeast Asia, highlighted by the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone in December 2012, and the subsequent failure of the Lao PDR to properly investigate it…
We, as current and former elected representatives in ASEAN member states would like to convey our input to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, contributing our suggestions for agenda setting for 2015 and warning of the dangers of overlooking the importance of ensuring the growth of a genuine regional human rights mechanism.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat is taking place in Sabah, Malaysia, 27-28 January 2015.
Firstly, we wish to call to attention the need for immediate and urgent action on one of the gravest human rights concerns facing our region and the world today: the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar which is becoming a strain and a stain on the entire region.
We would also seek to draw your attention to the dangers facing human rights defenders and civil society actors all across Southeast Asia, highlighted by the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone in December 2012, and the subsequent failure of the Lao PDR to properly investigate it, as well as the serious regional implications of ASEAN’s failure to stand up to the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Thailand and subsequent assault on human rights by the military regime there. At minimum, these issues, and potential solutions to them, should be discussed during the ASEAN Foreign Minister’s Retreat in Sabah. (more…)
Al Jazeera: 12 December 2014
Many suspect it was Sombath Somphone’s work empowering communities across Laos that led to his enforced disappearance.
In August 2005, in front of an audience in Manila, Lao development worker Sombath Somphone received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership.
Sombath Somphone won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005 [AP]
Known as Asia’s Nobel Prize, it showed that Sombath’s work was appreciated not just by the people of Laos but across the region.
The award recognised Sombath’s “hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and motivating its young people to become a generation of leaders”.
But much of that hope has now been lost. Rather than mentoring a new generation of Lao community leaders, Sombath is missing – a victim of enforced disappearance – and Lao civil society is fractured and fearful.
An enforced disappearance takes place when a person is arrested, detained or abducted by the state or agents acting for the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their fate or whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.
And this serious human rights violation, recognised as an international crime since the aftermath of World War II, is ongoing as long as Sombath’s fate and whereabouts remain unknown.