Unknown to most peoples of ASEAN (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam) there is now an on-going regional effort to come up with an "ASEAN Human Rights Declaration" or AHRD. Tasked with this initiative is the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).
The AICHR first convened for the AHRD early this year on Jan. 8-9, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. There it resolved to finish the new document before the year ends.
The AICHR met again on the declaration on Feb. 17-19, in Jakarta, Indonesia. The meeting set the framework and structure of the proposed regional instrument and also completed deliberations on the "preamble" and the "general principles."
On March 9-13, the AICHR held its third meeting on the AHRD. It then set out the provisions for "civil and political rights."
The following month on Apr. 9-11, in Jakarta, Indonesia, the AICHR convened for its fourth meeting for the sections on "economic, social and cultural rights" and "the right to development" and "cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights."
Thereafter, the AICHR held its fifth meeting on May 6-8, in Bangkok, Thailand. It focused on "civil and political rights," the "rights of vulnerable groups" and "rights and responsibilities."
The AICHR then held its sixth meeting on June 3-6, in Yangon, Myanmar. It tackled new sections of human rights specific to the ASEAN region and recent developments enriching existing international human rights instruments.
A seventh meeting was scheduled for June 22-23, in Malaysia. No press release has been issued on its outcome.
The AICHR is then mandated to submit its final draft AHRD to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers before July.
For sure the proposed AHRD would be a monumental piece of work for ASEAN, which has been known to close its eyes or drag its feet on human rights violations. Take the case of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She was only recently released after 15 years of house arrest by Burma's military dictatorship. ASEAN then did business as usual, oblivious to such egregious violation. Not to mention the fate of other political prisoners.
Unfortunately, the AICHR has kept the AHRD to itself like a closely guarded secret. Deliberations are held in strict confidentiality. No draft is even circulated to the public.
And yet, the AHRD is supposed to be a declaration of the human rights of the ASEAN peoples. Hence, it's crafting must involve the peoples themselves. There must be full transparency and widest publicity to ensure public awareness and active engagement.
Most important, the AHRD should be a living document that is the fruit of the ASEAN peoples' struggles and a pillar to rely on in times of great difficulties and challenges. Necessarily, it must be a product of the peoples themselves and not just of the AICHR.