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The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and its implementation


Dr Gerard Clarke
Swansea University

The language of “Community” is alive and well in East Asia and this is no more so than in Southeast Asia where the region’s institution – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – is committed to building a community by 2015. One aspect of ASEAN’s community building project that has attracted much attention is the notion that it is “people-oriented”. What people-oriented means is itself a subject of some controversy, and this roundtable is concerned with one element of it that is considered a significant marker, and for many the most significant marker, for what it means; the safeguarding of the people’s human rights.

From its founding Bangkok Declaration in 1967, ASEAN has always claimed to be for the people. However, even a cursory glance at ASEAN’s history reveals that “people”, and their security, have not been uppermost concerns for the state elite. The silence from ASEAN members while atrocious human rights abuses were conducted by leaders such as Ferdinand Marcos, Than Shwe, Suharto, coupled to the general restrictive nature of “soft” authoritarian regimes in Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore, and the communist regimes of Vietnam and Laos, have, unsurprisingly, given ASEAN the image of being, not for the people, but a gentleman’s club for the state elite. ASEAN’s embrace therefore of human rights is a significant development for the Association. In 2009, ASEAN inaugurated a human rights body – ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) – and since then the ten Representatives, one from each member state, have established AICHR’s Terms of Reference (ToR) and in November 2012 the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). The AHRD has attracted considerable comment, with many non-governmental organisations bemoaning its restrictive nature while other actors are cautiously optimistic that it represents a turning point for human rights protection in Southeast Asia.

It is the AHRD that acts as the focal point for this roundtable’s discussion. Five participants will present at the roundtable; two from a politics perspective, two from a legal perspective and one as a former AICHR Representative. Three are from Southeast Asia and are both noted academics within, and beyond, the region and policy-informers within Southeast Asia. Please see the abstract under each participant for brief details of their topics. In short, we aim to place the AHRD within a discussion of what constitutes human rights in Southeast Asia and what the politics surrounding the creation of the AHRD reveals about the Association’s notion of “people-oriented”. The discussant closely connected with the functioning of AICHR can explain both the politics and legal interpretations behind the AHRD’s clauses. All participants are confirmed.


  • Dr Gerard Clarke (Swansea University)
  • Dr. Helen Quane (Swansea University)
  • Associate Professor Herman Joseph S. Kraft (University of the Philippines, Diliman)
  • Prof Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan (University of the Philippines, Diliman)
  • Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree (Mahidol University)