Workshop explores specific institutions of the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

A report on the third Swansea University Workshop on Human Rights in Southeast Asia and the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

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The College of Arts and Humanities hosted the third annual Swansea University workshop on Human Rights in Southeast Asia and on the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism on 6 May 2016, with speakers from Swansea University and from universities in Thailand and the Philippines. Organised by Dr Gerard Clarke from the Department of Political and Cultural Studies (PCS), the workshop was the final in a series of three annual Swansea worskhops funded by the British Academy as part of the three-year project exploring the human rights mechanism of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The project brings together colleagues from Swansea University and the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) working in the disciplines of politics, international relations and law, along with human rights scholars and practitioners from other regional institutions.

ASEAN conf - Vitit MuntarbhornThe keynote speaker this year was Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn (pictured above), from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, a human rights scholar who played an important role in the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) as Chair of the independent Working Group on the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (WGAHRM). A prominent figure in the special procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Professor Muntarbhorn has previously acted as the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and Chair of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Ivory Coast in 2011. Since September 2012, he has been serving as a Commissioner on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

ASEAN workshop - Lord WilliamsOther speakers included Professor Ruth-Lusterio-Rico from the UPD Department of Political Science and Attorney Ricardo Sunga from the UPD College of Law and Institute of Human Rights. Speakers from Swansea University included Professor Simon Baughen from the College of Law and Dr Mark Evans from the Department of Political and Cultural Studies. The workshop was opened and closed by Lord Williams of Baglan (pictured left), a member of Swansea University Council, former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and former Director of Human Rights in the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia.

Together, they addressed an audience of thirty other staff and postgraduate students from the Department of Political and Cultural Studies and the College of Law and Criminology, including students on the MA Development and Human Rights programme run by the Department of Political and Cultural Studies.

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The workshop explored the specific institutions of the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, including AICHR, the ASEAN Commission on Women and Children and the ASEAN Commission on Workers and at current challenges including dealing with multi-national corporations in the context of neoliberal growth, with the rights of indigenous peoples in the context of encroachment on their ancestral domains, with the embedding human righgt in the ASEAN Community 2025 plans. The conference noted that the human rights situation in the region has deteriorated markedly since the start of the project, with the introduction of a harsh new Sharia code in Brunei, the installation of a military junta in Thailand, the repression of Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar and the resumption of executions in Indonesia following the election of President Joko Widodo. Nevertheless, speakers argued that ASEAN has been largely successful at maintaining international peace in the region and at a time of instability in others, and that its new normative and institutional commitment to human rights and to creating a ‘people oriented’ community offers new opportunities to people, social movements and governments to promote and protect human rights at regional level in Southeast Asia. Drawing on Professor Vitit’s keynote paper, it considered specific recommendations to develop the ASEAN human rights mechanism and its fit to global human rights mechanisms through national and regional action. These will be considered in a forthcoming edited collection bringing together the main papers presented in the project’s conferences over the last three years.      

For further information on the project contact Dr Gerard Clarke:  g.clarke@swansea.ac.uk