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NGOs feel ignored by ASEAN rights council

Despite renewed criticism from civil society and a call for its drafting to be postponed, finalisation of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) was well under way, officials said yesterday at the beginning of a week of ASEAN meetings.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting between ASEAN foreign ministers and the Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the assembled diplomats had called for work on the declaration to advance.

“[We have] asked [AICHR] to engage with the stakeholders, including civil society, in preparing their ASEAN human rights declaration,” said Natalegawa, whose home country was chair of ASEAN last year.

His comments follow an open letter released on Friday by 63 civil-society organisations, asking for a postponement of the AHRD, which is due to be adopted in November.

The groups called for increased drafting transparency and civil-society consultation as well as the technical and expert assistance of UN agencies.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development executive director Yap Swee Seng told the Post the groups were worried the declaration will be undermined by the national, regional, cultural and historical context of the 10 nations.

“Of course, the track record of human rights in the region for many countries has been quite bad, and that is why it is important the human-rights declaration would set the standard for the government to follow,” Swee Seng said by telephone.

Continuing human-rights abuses by member states were also being left on the sidelines, Swee Seng said, pointing to sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination and enforced disappearances as examples of controversial abuses.

However, Kao Kim Hourn, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ruled out any likelihood of a postponement.

“The first draft [of the declaration] is already a very good text. We still have time . . . That’s why ASEAN foreign ministers requested AICHR to continue to improve [the draft]. We expect to have a very good text to be ready for the [summit in November],” Kao Kim Hourn said at a press conference yesterday afternoon.

“The Asean foreign ministers also decided to release key elements of the draft.

“AICHR will have to come up with key elements, and those key elements will be released to the public,” he added, without saying when such elements would be released.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bridget Di Certo at bridget.dicerto@phnompenhpost.com
Cheang Sokha at sokha.cheang@phnompenhpost.com

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