The deceptive ASEAN Human Rights Declaration

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Part of Benigno Aquino III’s overall pretensions of being a champion of human rights is his signing of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in November. This is a deceptive document that actually supports repressive governments. It is a step backward from the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which hold human rights as fundamental to all individuals.

The contents of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration were framed by various officials of ASEAN member-states but not a single human rights advocate was consulted. As a result, human rights activists in the region condemned the document instead of welcoming it.

The declaration states that “… the realization of human rights must be considered in the regional and national context bearing in mind different political, economic, legal, social, cultural, historical and religious backgrounds” and that the exercise of human rights shall be subject to the requirements of national security, public order, public health, public safety and public morality.

Fundamental rights such as suffrage, participation in government and forming and joining unions may only apply if they conform to existing national laws and policies. ASEAN’s decision to include “public morality” in the document may also be used to prevent women from exercising their rights.

KARAPATAN cited the document’s many loopholes, saying that it could be used by ASEAN states as a blueprint for further rights violations. No less than the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and 62 local, regional and international groups had called on ASEAN to suspend the signing of the declaration.

Aquino and the other ASEAN leaders, however, went ahead with the signing because the declaration upholds the repressive bent of governments in the region.