New regional body will help protect human rights in South-East Asia – UN official

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

22 July 2009 – The United Nations human rights chief today welcomed the latest move to set up a regional body to protect the rights of people living in South-East Asia, highlighting the need to appoint “independent and impartial” experts to serve on it when it is launched in October.

The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have endorsed the terms of reference for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which will be the first regional body of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called the endorsement “an important step forward” in the establishment of the new mechanism, noting that similar bodies are already functioning in other regions, including Africa, the Americas and Europe.

She strongly encouraged ASEAN States to appoint Commission members who are “independent and impartial, and have proven expertise in human rights.”

In addition, the national selection processes should include wide consultation and participation by various actors in society, said Ms. Pillay, noting the regional leaders’ stated commitment to create a “people-oriented ASEAN.”

At the same time, the High Commissioner voiced her disappointment at the Commission’s “lack of a clear protection mandate,” but said she hoped its role would expand after its launch in October at the 15th ASEAN Summit, to be held in Phuket, Thailand.

She also stressed that close cooperation and partnership with independent and effective national human rights institutions, which are already established in some ASEAN nations, will help to reinforce the new Commission’s role.

According to the High Commissioner’s office, regional arrangements – such as the one being created by ASEAN – can play an important role in protecting and promoting international human rights standards, including by helping to address shortcomings in national frameworks.

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