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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Civil society decries ASEAN draft clause

Civil society decries ASEAN draft clause

A coalition of women’s groups have lashed out at Malaysia for continuing to endorse a “public morality” clause in the draft ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights. 

They claim the clause is subjective and discriminates against women and sexual minorities and should be ditched.

Currently being drafted by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) behind closed doors, the ADHR is set to be adopted in November, yet at the AICHR’s Second Regional Consultation with Civil Society Organizations, which wrapped up in Manilla yesterday, Malaysia’s representative, Dato’ Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, defended the clause as instrumental in his country’s legislative framework.

In a statement released by the coalition, the Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN  declared public morality had not been defined in international human rights standards and its interpretation in daily life had been largely based on dominant political, cultural and religious regimes.

“Public morality, through concepts of chastity, virginity and the like, deflects crimes against person such as rape and other sexual abuses into crimes against honour … Conversely it has also been used to criminalise prostitution and sex work and what may be interpreted as transgressive gender identities and behaviour,” it stated.

Yet Abdullah claimed that misinterpretation of the word did not mean it should be omitted from the declaration.

“We believe the clause is archaic, and our request to have it deleted would not affect the constitutions of ASEAN member states as it is a non-binding political document,” said Nina Somera, of the Women’s Caucus Secretariat, adding that the coalition would appeal again to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and other foreign ministers of ASEAN.

Cambodian opposition lawmaker, Mu Sochua, said the clause would victimsze those who didn’t comply with a government’s values.

“Malaysia right now is pushing for the identification of children ... who have homosexual tendencies – this is a violation of human rights, this clause supports that. It is a big step backwards in terms of freedom,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at



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