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CCHR urgently requests dialogue on draft ASEAN human rights declaration

(CCHR/IFEX) - In this open letter, CCHR expresses concern over the lack of meaningful dialogue with Cambodian civil society or solicited input over the drafting of the ASEAN human rights declaration.

Orn Panhha,
Assistant to the Senior Minister,
President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) and
Representative of Cambodia to AICHR,
Email: [email protected]

30 October 2012

Dear Mr Panhha,

I write to you regarding the submission of the draft ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (the "AHRD") at the forthcoming 21st ASEAN Summit, which will take place in Phnom Penh from 18 to 20 November 2012. I should like to express my grave concern that, in your capacity as a member of the Cambodian Drafting Team for the AHRD, you have not as yet sought any meaningful dialogue with Cambodian civil society or solicited any input or suggestions in connection with the AHRD.

Under Article 1 of the ASEAN Charter, all ASEAN members have pledged to: "promote a people-orientated ASEAN in which all sectors of society are encouraged to participate in, and benefit from, the process of ASEAN integration and community building." I respectfully remind you that "all sectors of society" includes civil society organizations - such as the Cambodian Center for Human Rights ("CCHR") - who not only focus on people by engaging in the protection and promotion of human rights, but who also endeavor to participate in the process of ASEAN integration and community building by supporting their governments and engaging with civil society groups in other ASEAN countries.

In November 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay, made the first ever address to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (the "AICHR"). During her address, Ms Pillay forewarned that the AICHR's success would be judged by its achievements and that its work would be compared with other regional bodies. She urged the AICHR to heed civil society's requests for greater transparency, particularly as regards the drafting of the AHRD.

These requests have been reiterated on a number of occasions throughout the ASEAN community - including Cambodia. However, so far, only the Thai and Indonesian Drafting Teams have indicated that they will consult with civil society and national stakeholders.

There is real concern within Cambodian civil society, including CCHR, that the current draft of the AHRD does not fully comply with international human rights law and standards. It would be a welcome development if the details of these reservations could be raised with you in your official capacity via meaningful dialogue and in a harmonious setting, prior to the submission of the AHRD at the forthcoming summit.

Such dialogue would in turn enrich and legitimize the AICHR deliberations and decision-making process, which, like other forward-looking regional bodies, should rely on the principles of consultation, transparency, and accountability. In the event that dialogue is not forthcoming, it is likely that the legitimacy of the AHRD will be brought into question amidst significant public scrutiny and criticism.

In June 2012, H.E. Dr. Om Yentieng, the Representative of Cambodia and Chair of AICHR, acknowledged the importance of the AHRD which "will affect the lives of the many millions who live in ASEAN". As Chair of the AICHR, Cambodia has the responsibility of being seen to uphold the aims and spirit of the ASEAN Charter and the AHRD. Under the gaze of all regional and international bodies, Cambodia should embrace the opportunity to demonstrate its respect for consultation, transparency and accountability, in the pursuit of the protection and promotion of human rights.

In light of the above, I therefore urge you to consider inviting members of Cambodian civil society to attend a national meeting where there can be meaningful dialogue concerning the drafting of the AHRD, with a view to developing a document that is - at least from the Cambodian perspective - properly representative of the people as well as to their benefit. I also request that you publish the current draft of the AHRD in advance of such meeting so as to facilitate productive dialogue.

Due to the proximity of the ASEAN summit, I should be grateful for your urgent response.

Yours sincerely,

Chak Sopheap
(Acting President of CCHR)

CC:

Samdech Techo Hun Sen (Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia)
H.E. Dr Om Yentieng (Senior Minister and President of the Cambodian Human Rights
Committee (CHRC), the Representative of Cambodia, and Chair of AICHR)

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