Tackle ‘growing human rights crisis’ in the region, Asean urged
Parliamentarians urged the heads of state attending the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Manila this week not to shy away from tackling the state of human rights and democracy in the region.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urged the Asean leaders to tackle “difficult questions” such as human rights and democracy, and take steps to address the “growing human rights crisis” in the Southeast Asian region.
The lawmakers expressed alarm at regional concerns, such as government restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, threats to civil society, rampant extrajudicial killings, and atrocity crimes in the region.
The group of parliamentarians cited the extrajudicial killings marring President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, as well as the supposed ethnic cleansing against the Rohingyas in Myanmar.
“The accelerating erosion of democracy and human rights protections threatens to undermine the progress of Asean integration and yield a weaker regional bloc that fails to live up to its people-centered claim,” APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament, said.
“We’re seeing several troubling trends region-wide: civil society and opposition voices, including parliamentarians, are being harassed and imprisoned; marginalized communities are under attack from security forces; and religious extremism is increasingly being used for nefarious political aims. The Asean Summit is a place where these issues can and should be discussed, debated, and ultimately responded to at the regional level.” he added.
The group also urged Asean leaders to engage the civil society groups and grassroots people’s organizations for regional and national policymaking.
“As elected representatives of the people, we urge heads of government – on behalf of our constituents – to incorporate stronger consultative mechanisms at the regional level that engage all voices, including women and youth, and allow space for civil society to operate in all Asean countries without government interference,” APHR Vice-Chair Mu Sochua, a member of the Cambodian National Assembly, said.
The Asean parliamentarians also urged the leaders to strengthen the mandate of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in addressing human rights violations.
They also asked the leaders to revisit the bloc’s “non-interference” principle, which was being used by government as a stumbling block to human rights protections under international law.
“The idea of ‘non-interference’ serves as convenient cover for some governments when it comes to issues they don’t want to address. The fact is, however, that interference does take place in the economic realm without objection, so leaders must acknowledge the need to discuss whether the policy is really fit to take the grouping forward. It should be tabled for discussion at least,” Santiago said.
“The goal of addressing the non-interference policy would not be to undermine national sovereignty, but to ensure that basic standards exist for member states and to strengthen existing systems for the economic and social benefit of all,” he added.
The Philippines is host of the 30th Asean Summit which would run from April 26 to 29 in Manila. President Rodrigo Duterte is this year’s Asean chair who would host the first of two annual meetings of Asean leaders on Saturday. IDL
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