By Shaila Koshy | The Star
The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is taking baby steps towards greater transparency.
Seven years after the region’s human rights mechanism was set up in 2009, it published an annual report on Aug 1.
However, there are no recommendations in the 18-page 2016 report.
Edmund Bon, Malaysia’s Representative to AICHR, said in an interview that there were “only two recommendations this year”.
“To make our Annual Report public; and to update and review our Terms of Reference.
“We communicated these recommendations to the AMM (ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting) on July 23. The AMM accepted the first.”
The second was noted by AMM, he said, adding that one of the 10 ASEAN Member States (AMS) wanted the new Representatives “to fully utilise the existing Terms of Reference before reviewing them.”
Bon is hopeful: “This means the AMM wants AICHR to utilise among others the mandate to obtain information from AMS on the protection of human rights and also to develop common approaches to human rights.”
He added that Malaysia would embark on these in the coming months.
AICHR, which comprises representatives of ASEAN’s member states, has been the target of criticism from human rights advocacy groups for not doing it so far.
“Civil society organisations rightly criticised AICHR for failing to release our previous reports; we have now met their demand.
“We cannot work in silos,” he stressed, adding 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 that 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 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.
However, with the new concerted push to publish, the Foreign Ministers had not objected at the meeting last month.
Asked whether AICHR could revert to the old position, he replied: “We would have to wait and see.”
“At our last meeting, I asked for a compilation of all AICHR’s reports since its inception including research studies and event reports for us to consider releasing.
“Malaysia has always supported the release of our Annual Reports because it would create and document an accessible record on AICHR and its legacy.”