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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Congratulations to ASEAN on the adoption of its Human Rights Declaration

Cambodia's PM Hun Sen, left, with ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan after the ceremony for the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, November 18, 2012.


On 18 November 2012, the ASEAN Heads of State and Government adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. This Declaration, which is the first comprehensive human rights document issued by ASEAN, displays an authentic regional vision on the promotion and protection of human rights.

The Presidency of ASEAN, held by Cambodia, which brought the process to a successful completion, and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which took care of much of the drafting, need to be commended for their stewardship of the process and the quality of its outcome. Since the cultures, political systems, and therefore the human rights ambitions of the member states of ASEAN are very different, the fact that they were able to produce such a consistent and convincing document deserves a compliment.

ASEAN’s efforts become even more commendable when one takes into account that the principle of non-interference has always been a pillar of the cooperation within ASEAN and an important part of its success. During the early years, states were focusing on internal problems and they were not eager, therefore, to take on each other. At a later stage the organisation accommodated the accession of a number of states with radically different political systems. This could work only because the members adopted a ‘live and let live’ attitude towards each other. ASEAN has now shown that it is willing to sacrifice a principle which has contributed much to the success of the organisation by turning human rights into an issue of common concern.