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“ASEAN Human Rights Declaration should maintain international standards,” urge key UN expert group

in WORLD, 18/11/2012

The largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system today called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to ensure that international human rights standards are maintained when they come to consider the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration this Sunday, 18 November.

“It is imperative that, as a minimum, ASEAN’s landmark human rights instrument maintains international standards to complement the work of the UN human rights system,” said Michel Forst, who currently chairs the Coordination Committee set up by the independent experts designated by the UN Human Rights Council to address specific country situations and thematic issues in all parts of the world.

In an open letter* to ASEAN member States, the group of international experts stressed the need to reaffirm in their Declaration the duty of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms regardless of their particular political, economic and cultural systems - one of the key principles of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by 171 States in 1993 to forge a new vision for global action for human rights into the next century.

The Human Rights Council independent experts also drew attention to provisions in the draft ASEAN Declaration which seek to ‘balance’ rights with individual duties. “This is not the wording of international human rights law,” they pointed out. “Advocating a balance between human rights and duties creates much greater scope for Governments to place arbitrary, disproportionate and unnecessary restrictions on human rights.”

The experts also called on ASEAN to consider in their declaration the issues of statelessness, the right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries, and the international customary law principle of non-refoulement (to prevent persons from being returned to countries where, for instance, they will be subjected to torture). “Again, such provisions should not be contingent on domestic laws,” underscored Mr. Forst.

“The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration should take its place as a landmark document which contributes to an improvement in the human rights situation in South-East Asia,” the Committee Chair said. “To achieve this, we call on all ASEAN member States to consult further with the people of the region, including civil society organisations, and to take on board their concerns and aspirations.”

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