A Brief History of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
In over four decades since its establishment, ASEAN as an intergovernmental organization has always worked towards improving the lives of its citizens in its Member States, in the economic, political-security and socio-cultural aspect. To further ensure the wellbeing of the ASEAN people, ASEAN decided to have their own regional human rights body, which reflects ASEAN’s strong commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In 1993, the United Nations convened the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria. The Member Countries of ASEAN, only consisting of six members back then, all participated in the World Conference. The Conference resulted in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
Subsequently, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in their Joint Communiqué of the 26th AMM (July 1993) stated the following:
17. The Foreign Ministers agreed that ASEAN should coordinate a common approach on human rights and actively participate and contribute to the application, promotion and protection of human rights. They noted that the UN Charter had placed the question of universal observance and promotion of human rights within the context of international cooperation. They stressed that development is an inalienable right and that the use of human rights as a conditionality for economic cooperation and development assistance is detrimental to international cooperation and could undermine an international consensus on human rights. They emphasized that the protection and promotion of human rights in the international community should take cognizance of the principles of respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. They were convinced that freedom, progress and national stability are promoted by a balance between the rights of the individual and those of the community, through which many individual rights are realized, as provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
18. The Foreign Ministers reviewed with satisfaction the considerable and continuing progress of ASEAN in freeing its peoples from fear and want, enabling them to live in dignity. They stressed that the violations of basic human rights must be redressed and should not be tolerated under any pretext. They further stressed the importance of strengthening international cooperation on all aspects of human rights and that all governments should uphold humane standards and respect human dignity. In this regard and in support of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 25 June 1993, they agreed that ASEAN should also consider the establishment of an appropriate regional mechanism on human rights. For the first time, ASEAN set itself towards the development of regional human rights regime.
Taking the commitment they already made in 1993, the establishment of a regional mechanism on human rights was just a matter of time. Upon the adoption of the ASEAN Charter, Article 14 states that “In conformity with the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, ASEAN shall establish an ASEAN human rights body”.
In the interpretation of that Article, the High Level Panel was set up to draft the Terms of Reference (TOR) of this to be established ASEAN Human Rights Body. The Terms of Reference (TOR) of AICHR was adopted by the ASEAN Foreign Minister Meeting in July 2009. On 23 October 2009 the ten AICHR Representatives, one from each Member State, were appointed and AICHR was inaugurated at the 15th ASEAN Summit in Cha-am Hua Hin, Thailand by the ASEAN Leaders.
The AICHR Representatives come from different background and experience and serve a three-year term of office. The AICHR Representatives are guided by their TOR which contains the 14 mandates and functions of AICHR.
Since its establishment, AICHR has completed their Five-Year Work Plan 2010 – 2015, and the annual high priority programmes and activities, which was endorsed by the Foreign Ministers at their Retreat in January 2012. AICHR have also adopted the Rules of Procedure of the AICHR Fund, the Guidelines on the Operations of AICHR and the Terms of Reference for the thematic studies that AICHR is conducting as well as for capacity building activities.
The Guidelines on the Operations of AICHR sets out the modalities for interaction with different stakeholders and how AICHR will conduct their mandates and functions. AICHR also had preliminary discussion on the guidelines for engagement with stakeholders, including civil society organisations (CSOs).
AICHR plans to conduct thematic studies for each year in the Five-Year Work Plan. The topics of the thematic studies include Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Migration, Trafficking in Persons particularly women and children, Child soldiers, Women and children in conflicts and disasters, Juvenile justice, Right to information in criminal justice, Rights to health (includes Reproductive health of Women), Rights to education, Right to life (includes Capital Punishment), and Right to Peace.
Starting from 2011, AICHR has focused on the drafting of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). The document will be a landmark political document in terms of human rights in the region, reflecting the aspirations of the people of ASEAN. It will set the landscape for human rights cooperation in the South East Asia region. The AHRD will engender a framework for human rights cooperation through various ASEAN conventions and other instruments dealing with human rights. During the development of this very important document, AICHR have met with representatives of ASEAN Sectoral Bodies, civil society and experts on human rights.
AICHR also conducts research, trainings and workshops related to pertinent issues on human rights. AICHR has conducted several workshops and trainings in partnership with institutions such as the United Nations agencies and development partners. AICHR had also conducted two study visits to other regions; to the United States in November 2010 and to Europe in 2011.
For more information on AICHR’s mandate and functions, please refer to their Terms of Reference