Scholars and observers often criticise the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) – and rightly so – for lacking the will, mandate, and power to effectively protect human rights. Since its establishment in 2009, the AICHR has been unable to rein in the Southeast Asian governments that defaulted on their human rights obligations. The AICHR has spent millions of dollars primarily on activities to promote human rights, but rights duty-bearers have consistently escaped a sufficient level of accountability and scrutiny expected of a regional human rights commission. 

Nevertheless, the AICHR’s existence, at the very least, provides a platform for its representatives to interpret and contest human rights values and norms. That such a space may operate within an intergovernmental setting is nothing surprising, but how this platform operates, how it is maintained or enhanced, where the lines of its limitations are – these issues have been under-researched. 

Drawing from unpublished data and recent in-depth interviews with key informants, I co-authored a journal article* with Prof Alan Collins from Swansea University. The article examines the AICHR’s embryonic participatory space, detailing the contestations over what it can and cannot do, who can participate and who cannot, and how the norms that operate therein are regularly challenged. 

Notwithstanding that further research on the subject matter is required, the article offers a tentative perspective on the AICHR, analysing its workings from the “inside” while offering new insights to practitioners and activists strategising to improve the only human rights mechanism in the region.

* The print version of this article was published by Taylor & Francis in the Australian Journal of International Affairs in 2022.

Edmund is the Chairperson of the Malaysia National Working Group (MNWG), a part of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (WGAHRM). For other writings by Edmund on the AICHR, see here and here.