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SEAPA submission to the AICHR on the right to freedom of opinion and expression in ASEAN

(SEAPA/IFEX) - 21 June 2012 - A much awaited outcome of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' commitment to human rights in 2012 will be the finalisation of an ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights (AHRD). It will underline ASEAN's official perception and position towards human rights in this region. The drafting process under the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is now winding up. Three weeks prior to submitting the final draft document to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, AICHR is organising its only regional consultation with civil society tomorrow.

Below is SEAPA's submission on the AHRD on the right to freedom of opinion and expression:

The Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression in ASEAN
SEAPA's submission to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)

Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is encouraged by the decision of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to organise a regional consultation on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) with civil society in the region in Kuala Lumpur on 22 June, 2012.

Consultations are a critical building block towards improved constructive engagement between ASEAN bodies and the civil society in the decision-making processes of ASEAN policy initiatives, and the realization of the 'people-oriented community' aspired for under the ASEAN Charter.

SEAPA hopes that this Kuala Lumpur consultation will be sustained and eventually evolve to become a regular, more inclusive and expansive platform that reflects comfortable cooperation on common concerns of both AICHR and the civil societies for the promotion and protection of human rights in Southeast Asia.

While we regret not having received an invitation to the consultation in order to participate formally, we nevertheless deem it necessary to make this submission in order to emphasize the importance of our advocacy for the respect, protection and fulfillment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression for all peoples in Southeast Asia.

We appreciate having learned that the guarantee of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is recognized in the civil and political rights section of the current draft of the declaration. SEAPA, however, remains convinced that this right is a fundamental to the realization of all other rights in the AHRD in order to make it a truly effective regional human rights mechanism.

To this end, SEAPA recalls the formulation of this right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), and urge its verbatim adoption in the ASEAN declaration:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

The elaboration and guarantee of this right should be premised on its recognition as essential for the promotion and protection of other human rights, including the right to development. SEAPA would like to refer the AICHR to paragraphs 24 to 39 of the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue to the 14th Session of Human Rights Council, and to the General Comment No. 34 of Human Rights Committee presented in its 102nd session on July 2011.

In particular, SEAPA would like to emphasize the following:

1. The AHRD's text recognizing the right to freedom of opinion and expression must include the phrase "regardless of frontiers" in order to reflect the contemporary communication landscape, which is global and also particularly regional. This is in recognition of both the advancements in information and communication technology and ASEAN's aspirations as a regional community; and in conformity with the guarantee of this right under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

2. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is generally understood as having two elements: the right to hold any opinion, and the right to seek, receive and impart information through any medium. In keeping with internationally-accepted interpretation of the latter, this includes the right to access information, and the respect for the pluralism and freedom of the media. SEAPA encourages AICHR to include in the AHRD the text on media freedom in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union Article 11 paragraph 2: "The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected."

3. Recognizing that the right to freedom of opinion and expression is derogable, the restrictions to this right should only include those stipulated in paragraph 3 of ICCPR Article 19. SEAPA would like to emphasize that restrictions on this basis should be consistent with the principles legality, proportionality, necessity and non-discrimination.

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