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Civil society denounces adoption of flawed ASEAN human rights declaration

Joint Statement - November 19, 2012

Disregarding the deep concerns expressed by senior United Nations officials, human rights experts and hundreds of civil society and grassroots organisations at the national, regional and international levels, ASEAN leaders nonetheless adopted yesterday an "ASEAN Human Rights Declaration" that undermines, rather than affirms, international human rights law and standards. The document is a declaration of government powers disguised as a declaration of human rights.

It is deplorable that the governments of ASEAN have insisted on making a Declaration that implies that their people are less deserving of human rights than the people of Europe, Africa or the Americas. The people of ASEAN should never accept a lower level of protection of their human rights than the rest of the world.

The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration should have reflected the universally held conviction that respecting human rights necessarily means imposing limitations on the powers of government. Instead, the Declaration that was adopted, through some of its deeply flawed "General Principles", will serve to provide ready-made justifications for human rights violations of people within the jurisdiction of ASEAN governments. These include balancing the enjoyment of fundamental rights with government-imposed duties on individuals, subjecting the realisation of human rights to regional and national contexts, and broad and all-encompassing limitations on rights in the Declaration, including rights that should never be restricted. In many of its articles, the enjoyment of rights is made subject to national laws, instead of requiring that the laws be consistent with the rights.

The Declaration fails to include several key basic rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to freedom of association and the right to be free from enforced disappearance.

The last-minute addition made to the leaders' statement upon adopting the declaration, reaffirming ASEAN member governments' commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments in the implementation of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, does little to address the fundamental problem. As long as the Declaration's General Principles and the loopholes they provide remain, a wrong signal will be sent to governments that international human rights obligations may be circumvented.

It is highly regrettable that governments in the ASEAN who are more democratic and open to human rights succumbed to the pressure of human rights-hostile governments into adopting a deeply flawed instrument.

We again raise our objections to the ASEAN's "consultation and consensus" decision-making system, which has failed its people again. This reveals that the ASEAN human rights agenda is dictated by its Member States with little meaningful consultation with the vast array of civil society and grassroots organizations that are working each day for the human rights of the people of the ASEAN region.

This Declaration is not worthy of its name. We therefore reject it. We will not use it in our work as groups engaged in the protection of human rights in the region. We will not invoke it in addressing ASEAN or ASEAN member states, except to condemn it as an anti-human rights instrument. We will continue to rely on international human rights law and standards, which, unlike the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, provide all individuals, groups and peoples in ASEAN with the freedoms and protections to which they are entitled. We remind ASEAN member states that their obligations under international law supersede any conflicting provisions in this Declaration. This Declaration should never be the basis to excuse the failure of a state to meet its international human rights obligations.

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