By Shaila Koshy | The Star

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) broke new ground when its 2016 annual report was made public on Aug 1.

AICHR, which comprises representatives of ASEAN’s 10 member states, has been the target of criticism from human rights advocacy groups for not doing so since it was set up in 2009.

“Civil society organisations rightly criticised AICHR for failing to release our previous reports; we have now met their demand,” said Malaysia’s Representative to AICHR, Edmund Bon, in an interview.

“We cannot work in silos,” he said, adding that his hope was that they could continue to improve human rights protection by collaboration and sharing of good practices.

“We are able now to disseminate more information of quality to the ASEAN peoples and to raise the level of awareness about our work.

“As you can see, there is much promotion work, but insufficient protection work.”

Asked how the about-turn had come about, Bon said previous AICHR representatives could not reach a consensus on whether AICHR could publish its annual report.

“Some of the previous representatives felt that the reports contained ‘sensitive’ information critical of their governments,” said Bon, who is among the eight new appointees for the 2016-2018 term.

The others are from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. The representatives from Thailand and Laos have been in AICHR since 2013.

On what was so secretive about the reports, Bon said that some representatives “did not want to reveal too much information on the work of AICHR and they were afraid the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) would not approve of the move to make the reports public”.

He said they argued that the reports were only for AMM’s consumption.

Bon, who said there has since been a concerted push to publish, disclosed that at a meeting with AMM on July 23, the Foreign Ministers had not objected to their recommendation.