Sunday, July 19, 2009

Groups want rights body to have teeth

HR commission must be
credible, effective, independent

The Nation

Civil-society groups yesterday urged Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to push for a "credible, effective and independent" Asean Human Rights Body (AHRB), which is being set up under the Asean Charter.

The groups are campaigning for the AHRB to have "teeth", and not being just a "paper tiger".

In their letter to Kasit, they called for the rights body to have independent commissioners selected through a transparent process in consultation with civil society. According to the current draft terms of reference on the body's establishment, respective Asean governments appoint their representatives to the body.

The groups also called for equal representation of women and people from less-privileged groups in the body.

They suggested that to ensure effective protection of human rights, and not just promotion, the AHRB must have mechanisms that allow periodical peer reviews and on-site country visits to investigate complaints of violations. There must also be a mechanism to receive complaints about human rights violations in each of the Asean countries, the groups said in a letter to Kasit.

A copy of the letter was obtained by The Nation yesterday.

The groups consist of the Solidarity for Asian People's Advocacy (Sapa), the Taskforce on Asean and Human Rights, the Women's Caucus on Asean Human Rights Body, and the Taskforce on Asean Migrant Workers.

Their representatives met Kasit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday. They said the foreign minister told them to "share a written proposal of possible issues" to be tabled to the Asean foreign ministers' meeting.

The activists also plan to call on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva tomorrow, it was disclosed at their press conference held in Phuket yesterday.

Asean foreign ministers meet with the High Level Panel on the Asean Human Rights Body this afternoon. The panel is set to present the final draft of the terms of reference about the human rights body's formation. The terms require final endorsement from Asean heads of government.

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan expressed optimism on Friday that the terms of reference would be submitted for final endorsement by the Asean leaders at their 15th summit in Phuket in October.

Thailand is pushing hard for the establishment of the body during its chairmanship, which expires at the end of this year.

The Asean Charter, which has come into effect since last December, calls for establishment of a human-rights body within the grouping to promote and protect human rights.

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