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Human-rights vision in bullet points

The final preview to Cambodian civil society of the highly anticipated ASEAN Human Rights Declaration was a one-and-a-half-page bulleted list, drawing the ire of human-rights advocates who have long called for ASEAN to end the culture of secrecy.

A forum held in Siem Reap yesterday, attended by about 60 NGO representatives, judges, police, court officials and students, was led by Om Yentieng, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee.

“Now we would like you to read the landmark document, and if you have any ideas to add or you disagree with the points of the document, please let us know,” he said, adding that he would return feedback to the Cambodian committee before the declaration was finalised and endorsed by ASEAN members in November.

The bullet-point list is divided into broad categories of rights, such as civil, political, economic and cultural rights, and lists the type of rights in note form.

“Human rights are still the problem for the ASEAN community,” Yentieng conceded, pointing to the consultation meeting as satisfactory stakeholder engagement to alleviate concerns about transparency.

But rights organisations that have criticised ASEAN over the declaration’s secrecy said the attempt to engage fell well short of expected standards.

“Bullet points is not transparency. How can you comment on bullet points?” Cambodian Centre for Human Rights president Ou Virak said.

“Clearly, nobody is going to photo-copy the actual draft and distribute it, so you have to ask: what are the reasons behind trying so hard to keep it secret?

“This kind of process, in my view, makes them look like a laughing stock.”

Amnesty International, which has repeatedly called for greater transparency in the drafting of the declaration, said it was disappointed only leaked versions, summaries and bullet points were made available.

“In a semi-legal text of such importance, whether an ‘or’ is used or an ‘and’ can make a world of difference to the scope of a human right. Therefore, a half-page bullet-point list is not sufficient,” Amnesty legal adviser Dr Yuval Ginbar said.

“There is too much catering for the interests of governments at the expense of human rights.”

Yesterday’s list included the oft-criticised contextualisation of human rights within regional and national settings, but also called for “no double standard and politicisation in the realisation” of human rights.

To contact the reporters on this story: Thik Kaliyann and Bridget Di Certo at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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