COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
7 August 2008
CHR URGES THE RATIFICATION OF THE ASEAN CHARTER
AS VITAL TO REGIONAL HR PROTECTION
7 August 2008, Quezon City – On the 41st Anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urges the Senate to concur with the ratification of the ASEAN Charter, a crucial and historic document for regional cooperation, which can strengthen human rights promotion and protection.
A resolution issued by the CHR en banc welcomes the fact that the ASEAN Charter mandates the creation of a regional human rights body. However, since such a body cannot be established unless all 10 ASEAN members ratify the Charter, the CHR makes “an urgent call to the Philippine Government, particularly the Senate, to conclude the ratification process in the most timely manner.”
“The Philippines usually points to itself as a leader and a champion of human rights in the region,” said CHR Chairperson Leila M. De Lima. “Holding up the effectivity of the ASEAN Charter delays the long-overdue progress of human rights in Southeast Asia.”
The CHR emphasizes that the Charter strengthens human rights promotions and protections in at least 3 ways: (1) creating a human rights body, (2) setting down in writing the obligation of Member States to uphold the United Nations Charter and international law (Art. 2, 2(j)), and (3) setting a process for ASEAN as a body to take up matters of non-compliance in the Summit (Arts. 5 and 20). The CHR sees that this could include non-compliance with international human rights law, if not immediately then in the future.
The Commission on Human Rights is currently comprised of Chairperson Leila M. De Lima, and Commissioners Cecilia R. V. Quisumbing and Ma. Victoria V. Cardona. The fourth appointed Commissioner, Norberto Dela Cruz, is yet to assume office.
The CHR noted that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has already signed the document. As required by the 1987 Constitution, she transmitted it to the Senate for concurrence, where it is currently pending consideration.
“The varying degrees of adherence to human rights and democratic principles and standards by the different ASEAN Member States cannot be a reason for the Philippines to not ratify the ASEAN Charter,” say the CHR members. “Indeed, this international agreement can be used by more progressive members to advocate for better adherence.”
Asia is the only region without a regional human rights mechanism, agency or body. There are such mechanisms in Europe, Africa and the Inter-American Region.
ASEAN was created on 8 August 1967. Fifteen years ago, ASEAN members recognized the importance of setting up a human rights mechanism for the region. Since then the most significant occurrence was in 2007, when the member states agreed on the blueprint for the ASEAN Charter, which included the creation of a regional HR body.
Article 14 of the ASEAN Charter 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.”
“The Philippines was so proud to have been a key player in achieving agreement on this Charter,” said De Lima. “But now, it might be the last ASEAN government to ratify it. Even later than countries such as Myanmar and Laos, which do not have the same democratic and human rights principles in their respective Constitutions.”
The CHR quotes the preamble of the Charter in pointing out that the Philippine
President was among the Heads of States or Governments of the ASEAN Member States, who assembled in Singapore on the historic occasion of the 40th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN, that agreed to this Charter.