Towards the Establishment of an ASEAN Human Rights System


The intergovernmental regional organisation known as the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a grouping of ten nation-states; namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. ASEAN was founded on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

ASEAN has been making important progress in recent years towards the establishment of a regional human rights system for South-East Asia.

Following the UN World Conference on Human Rights in June 1993, the 26th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Singapore in July 1993 declared that “in support of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action...ASEAN should also consider the establishment of an appropriate regional mechanism on human rights.”

An ASEAN Charter was signed by the leaders of all member states at the 13th ASEAN Summit on 20 November 2007 and entered into force on 15 December 2008 following ratification by all 10 member states. The Charter aims to give ASEAN a legal personality and to establish more clearly its institutional framework and rules of procedure.

The promotion and protection of human rights are referred to in the preamble, purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter, and the establishment of a human rights body is committed to in Article 14 of the Charter.

The terms of reference (TOR) of the human rights body, named as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), were endorsed by ASEAN’s Foreign Ministers on 20 July 2009 during the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phuket, Thailand. On 22 July the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a press release in response to the endorsement of the TOR.

ASEAN’s leaders formally established the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) on 23 October 2009, during the 15th ASEAN Summit. The first official meeting of AICHR took place from 28 March to 1 April in Jakarta, during which the Rules of Procedure and the Five Year Work Plan were discussed. These will be further discussed prior to submission for approval to ASEAN's Foreign Ministers in July 2010.

To view the CVs of the ten Representatives of the AICHR appointed by the ASEAN member states, please click here.

In addition to the establishment of the AICHR, other developments have been taking place regarding the establishment of human rights mechanisms and instruments for specific groups of people. On 7 April 2010, the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) was inaugurated in Hanoi, Viet Nam. Please click here for the ToR of the ACWC. The drafting of an ASEAN instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers (AIMW) is also ongoing. Both the ACWC and AIMW find their sources in ASEAN policy documents and declarations; namely the 2004 Vientiane Action Programme, the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, and the subsequent ASEAN Community Blueprints. In 2007 ASEAN adopted the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint and in 2009 adopted the ASEAN Political-Security and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Blueprints, which together constitute the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community (2009-2015). Contained in the Socio-Cultural and Political-Security Blueprints are commitments to work towards the establishment of an ACWC and the development of an AIMW.