ASEAN lawyers to work towards stronger human rights safeguards

More than 40 delegates from nine countries attended a regional workshop for ASEAN lawyers in Bangkok April 28-30 on the promotion and protection of the rights of human rights defenders.

The workshop was organized by the ICJ, together with the Muslim Attorneys Center (MAC), the Institute for Policy and Research Advocacy (ELSAM-Indonesia), the Bar Council of Malaysia, and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS-Indonesia).

It focused on human rights defenders and effective ways of dealing with human rights issues after the integration of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.

The workshop participants, who are practicing lawyers in their countries, discussed developments surrounding the establishment of an ASEAN human rights mechanism. They acknowledged that the existing regional human rights body, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), in its current form, raises many challenges.

The participants recognized that they are presented with an opportunity to advance human rights standards in the region through ASEAN’s economic integration.

In 2015, the nations will integrate into a single economic entity, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

“We are very pleased by the interaction and discussions among ASEAN lawyers who have come to the workshop,” said Emerlynne Gil, Southeast Asia legal advisor for the ICJ. “I believe that we have achieved the goal of this workshop, which is to get ASEAN lawyers interested in contributing towards a strong ASEAN human rights mechanism.”

Participants in the workshop resolved to:

–Share information with the lawyers’ or bar associations in their countries, emphasizing the opportunity to advance human rights standards during ASEAN economic integration;

–Contact organizations and professional bodies expected to initially benefit from economic integration and discuss the challenges they will face in order to build a strong network that would push for regional human rights standards that conform with international human rights law;

–Engage with national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in ASEAN member states and discuss business and human rights;

–Prioritize ongoing engagement with AICHR;

–Examine possible cases for strategic litigation for the purpose of setting precedents in the region;

–Support each other through trial observations and/or the submission of amicus curiae to reinforce arguments in important cases, and

–Hold more capacity building activities to increase awareness among lawyers on human rights issues, particularly on the importance of strategic litigation on setting standards in conformity with international human rights law.

Workshop participants also discussed the challenges they face in taking up cases of human rights defenders. They included being identified with their clients’ causes, subjected to threats and intimidation by authorities, facing restrictions on travel and movement, being prevent them from immediately accessing their clients, and receiving no support from their bar associations.


Emerlynne Gil, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t +66 2 619 8477; email: emerlynne.gil(a)

Craig Knowles, ICJ Media Consultant, t +66 81 9077653; email:craig.knowles(a)

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