With the Cambodia government gearing to finish and launch the declaration under its chairship, women’s rights and human rights groups and advocates expressed their dismay over the impetuous processes of adopting the AHRD. Despite persistent demands from the civil society groups for postponement and wider consultations, the ASEAN seemed adamantly bent on adopting the AHRD during the ASEAN Summit to be held on 18-20 November 2012 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The public action was held under the banner of Philwomen on the ASEAN, a network of around 80 organizations that work together for women’s rights and gender equality in the ASEAN. The groups carried elaborate megaphones and passports. Printed on the megaphones is the call, “pakinggan ang boses ng kababaihan” (listen to women’s voices) as women’s concerns have been glaringly ignored in the AHRD. On the passports are the issues and recommendations they wish to be integrated in the declaration. These issues are access to justice, violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and migration.
While the protest was ongoing outside the Department of Foreign Affairs, representatives of the Philwomen on ASEAN went to the offices of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario to hand their position paper on the AHRD entitled, “A Challenge to ASEAN: Be at the Forefront of Human Rights Building in Southeast Asia.”
The advocates of Philwomen challenged ASEAN and AICHR to “raise the bar” in developing a progressive AHRD and putting in place mechanisms in the ASEAN for human rights promotion and protection. The groups demanded that the Philippine and Cambodia governments enjoin the ASEAN member states in ensuring that the ASEAN declaration will not retreat from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) standard of universality and non-discrimination. ASEAN must continue to uphold that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Access to justice should be at the core of the declaration, urged Jelen C. Paclarin of Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau. Access to justice leads to the creation of mechanisms that provide redress and remedies for human rights violations suffered by peoples, especially women in the region. Access to justice is the "teeth" of the AHRD that will pave the way to a strong, independent, credible and effective regional human rights system in the ASEAN, she added.
Non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has continuously been rejected by some ASEAN member states. Maica Lagman of Rainbow Rights urgently cautioned ASEAN that, “excluding rights of women and lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender persons (LGBTs) in the declaration denies people of Southeast Asia, the LGBTs especially, of their inalienable human rights and equal protection of the law. ASEAN must ensure that rights and freedoms are enjoyed by all in the region, regardless of one’s sex or sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). The heads of state must affirm equality of all by adopting a declaration that has inclusive provisions of non-discrimination, which allow everyone to live with dignity and respect, free and protected from any forms of discrimination and violence."
On violence against women, "Philwomen on ASEAN is calling for full employment, which includes the creation of jobs that are genuine, with dignity and sustainable, in order to reduce Filipino women’s vulnerability to trafficking and prostitution. We are also calling on our government and all other members of the ASEAN to protect migrants and victims of trafficking from further abuse, and to repeal all laws that criminalize them," asserted Clydie Pasia of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP).
Rebecca Lozada of the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court also called attention to the violence experienced by women in times of conflict. “Armed conflict has meant rape and other sexual and gender-based violence in the country and in other ASEAN member-states. The AHRD should uphold the right to basic necessities of life, physical integrity and dignity of populations affected by armed conflict.”
Sexual and reproductive health and rights were also seen to be ignored in the AHRD draft. “The draft AHRD mentions reproductive health, but makes no mention of sexual health and rights. These two issues –- reproductive and sexual health and rights –- are interrelated but are not the same,” pointed out Ana Maria R. Nemenzo of WomanHealth Philippines. She added that “taken together, they are integral to advancing gender equality and are the foundation for women’s autonomy in their personal/domestic and sexual relations.”
Dr. Aurora Parong of Amnesty International Philippines drew attention to maternal deaths which increased from 162 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006 to 221 deaths per 100,,000 live births in 2010. She said, “This means about 11 Filipino women die everyday. ASEAN states must end preventable maternal deaths by adopting an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration that recognizes and protects women’s rights, including the right to information, services and goods to achieve excellent maternal health and sexual and reproductive rights.”
On migration, Philwomen urged both receiving and sending countries of the ASEAN to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers. “Move away from implementing anti- migrant workers policies, such as crackdown on undocumented migrants, foreign workers first to be terminated during economic crisis, and similar policies. Recognize the contributions of migrant workers to the economy not just of the sending countries but receiving countries of the ASEAN as well. We emphasize the need of ASEAN states to be consistent in upholding human rights for all,” said Melanie Valenciano-Cabotaje of Unlad Kabayan.
Philwomen submitted a 4-page position paper to both DFA and the Embassy of Cambodia.
The position paper can be retrieved from the Philwomen on ASEAN’s facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Philwomen-on-Asean/102742296493324?fref=ts or at http://www.scribd.com/doc/112657299/Position-of-Philwomen-on-ASEAN