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US critiques ASEAN Human Rights Declaration

The US Department of State issued a statement yesterday saying that while it “in principle, supported” ASEAN’s efforts to codify human rights, last week’s newly signed Human Rights Declaration had the potential to jeopardise human rights as enshrined in well-established international declarations.

“While part of the ASEAN Declaration adopted November 18 tracks the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights], we are deeply concerned that many of the ASEAN Declaration’s principles and articles could weaken and erode universal human rights and fundamental freedoms as contained in the UDHR,” said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland in the statement.

Nuland went on to cite many of the concerns already raised by civil society groups, including “the concept of ‘cultural relativism’,” “novel limits to rights,” and language implying that “individual rights are subject to group veto”, before noting that ASEAN “has an opportunity” to strengthen the statement through cooperation with civil society.

Nay Vanda, deputy head of the human rights section of the rights group Adhoc, echoed Nuland’s suggestion, adding that there should be more consultation with civil society.

Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for its Asia Division, Phil Robertson, called the US’s statement “well conceived”.

However, he said: “I think the US is too optimistic that ASEAN is prepared to fix the problem because ASEAN has treated the views of its peoples and civil society groups with contempt throughout the AHRD draft process.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart White at



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