A “public morality” clause in the draft ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights threatens the most basic rights of women and sexual minorities and should be scrapped, a coalition of women’s groups said in a statement released yesterday.
Civil society groups met with foreign ministers at the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights last week to discuss the ADHR, which was drafted behind closed doors and is set to be adopted in November.
The statement from groups including the Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, warns “public morality” has never been defined in international human rights standards.
Thida Khus, spokesperson for the Women’s Caucus in Cambodia, said this left interpretation of the term up to individual states, which could use it to infringe on the rights of women following dominant political and religious cultures.
“Public morality is defined by the state, and if it goes into documents such as the human rights [declaration], then it becomes quite biased against women minorities,” she said.
“Who defines the public morality anyway? The people in power – usually it is men.”
Among the issues identified as most worrisome in the statement are sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, rights in marriage and family life and freedom of movement.
Om Yentieng, head of the government’s Human Rights Committee and chair of the AICHR, told the Post the ADHR was a confidential document and queried where civil society groups had stolen it from.
“I would like to ask this question back to them – where did they get this word [public morality] from?” he asked.
Khus said the information had emerged from the AICHR meeting and asked the government to release the draft ADHR.
Yesterday’s statement acknowledged the term “public morality” existed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but called on ASEAN’s 10 member states to set the bar higher.