Malaysia: ASEAN Human Rights Declaration falls short of expectation
While welcoming the adoption of the Declaration by ASEAN members, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia has highlighted concerns about key principles included in the document.
Tan Sri Hasmy Agam
Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (the Commission) welcomes the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) on 18 November 2012 during the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia as a positive development in the promotion and protection of human rights in the region.
The Commission is greatly encouraged by the reaffirmation by the ASEAN countries of their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Charter of the United Nations, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and other international human rights instruments to which ASEAN Member States are parties.
The Commission notes that the AHRD covers a wide range of rights categorised separately as Civil and Political Rights, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Right to Development, and the Right to Peace, all of which, while in consonance with international human rights standards, are subject to nine general principles.
While not downplaying the significance and usefulness of those general principles, the Commission is disappointed that they permit restrictions to be made on grounds wider than what are accepted internationally. More important, General Principle 7, which declares on the one hand, that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, recognises on the other, that Member States may take into consideration their political, economic, legal, socio-cultural, and historical backgrounds in the realisation of human rights in their countries.
The Commission is concerned that these principles might undermine the whole spirit of the Declaration and negate the full enjoyment and protection of human rights in the region. The Commission would also like to draw attention to Article 5 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action under which it is the duty of States to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.
The Commission also regrets the Declaration was drafted with limited openness and transparency, and inadequate extended consultations with various stakeholders, including the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) which were keen to contribute and anxious to ensure that the AHRD would be on a par with other regional human rights declarations.
Nonetheless, the Commission, along with the other members of the South East Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum (SEANF), will continue to engage with the ASEAN Governments and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in the process of the full and unimpeded implementation of the AHRD, consistent with international human rights standards and norms in the interest of ensuring that the rights of the region’s 600 million citizens are promoted and protected.
Date: 19 November 2012
Source: Human Rights Commission of Malaysia