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UN official welcomes ASEAN commitment to human rights, but concerned over declaration wording

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

UN official welcomes ASEAN commitment to human rights, but concerned over declaration wording

The United Nations human rights chief today welcomed the renewed commitment by leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to universal human rights norms – but expressed concern that the regional body’s recently-adopted human rights declaration, the region’s first, retains language that is not consistent with international standards.

“The international human rights mechanisms will continue to hold ASEAN member states to their international obligations and encourage ASEAN to strengthen further its regional human rights framework,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, added in a news release.

Meeting in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, the regional body’s leaders on Sunday adopted the so-called ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD), which affects some 600 million people within the borders of the regional body’s ten member countries.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the ASEAN leaders, in a statement on the AHRD’s adoption, stated that they were committed “to ensure that the implementation of the AHRD be in accordance with our commitment to the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, and other international human rights instruments to which ASEAN Member States are parties…”

Earlier this month, the High Commissioner drew attention to elements of the AHRD that fall below international standards and called for ASEAN leaders to review their efforts on the Declaration, expressing concern over the lack of inclusive and meaningful consultation with civil society in the region during its preparation.

“Other regions have shown how regional human rights systems can evolve and improve over time, and I am confident this will be the same for ASEAN,” Ms. Pillay said. “Looking ahead, it is essential that ASEAN ensures that any language inconsistent with international human rights standards does not become a part of any binding regional human rights convention.”

In addition to the High Commissioner, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system also flagged their concerns about the then-draft AHRD last week.

While noting that the adoption of a “credible” AHRD would represent a significant step by ASEAN to develop a regional human rights system, the experts expressed reservations with the draft, noting that it was “imperative” that the document “maintains international standards” if it is to complement the work of the UN human rights system.