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FOCUS March 2012 Volume Vol. 67

Human Rights and Development in ASEAN

Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism

In November 2010, the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism co-organized a Workshop on Developing National Human Rights Action Plans in ASEAN. Some of the interventions in the workshop delved on the more apparent importance being given to national development plans, rather than on national human rights action plans, due to the limited resources of many of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The discussions subsequently revolved around the link between human rights and development. Some participants shared their experiences in applying the human rights based approach (HRBA) to development. One of the key recommendations of the workshop was the holding of an activity that would discuss the relationship of human rights and development and also further discuss HRBA. Although HRBA as a concept was not new, the workshop participants recognized the need for more discussions on this approach that was yet to be mainstreamed in government plans and operations.

The 2012 Workshop

On 30-31 January 2012, the representatives of governments, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations within ASEAN countries along with representatives of the United Nations, international civil society organizations, and international development partners met in Bangkok to discuss the issue of human rights and development in ASEAN during the Workshop on Human Rights and Development in ASEAN. The workshop had several sessions focusing on the following themes:

a. Human Rights Framework and Human Rights-Based Approach to Development
b. Right to Development
c. Challenges to a Human Rights-Based Approach to Development
d. Application of a Human Rights-Based Approach to Development (Case Studies from UNDP and the Philippines)
e. Special Topics on Human Rights-Based Approach to Development.

They arrived at a set of conclusions and recommendations, as presented below.


The following are the Conclusions of the workshop:

Recurring Themes and Notions

1. Though development is perceived and defined in many ways, its description found in the second preambular paragraph of the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development (December 1986) is particularly useful,

 ...[D]evelopment is a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom.

2. The right to development upholds the principles of universality, indivisibility and interrelatedness of human rights. Civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights must be integrated.
3. Development should be people-centered and therefore communities and people should be defined as active participants in the process.
4. Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to Development requires accountability at all levels and stages of the process. Transparency necessarily requires the enjoyment of the right to information.
5. Human rights are seen both as a means and an end; HRBA to Development looks into both the process and the outcome, with equal importance. Development results will be meaningful and sustainable if the process to attain it is rights-based.
6. The essence of HRBA to Development is empowerment. Important questions that must be addressed include: What do the community and people themselves want?, Have their efforts on the ground been understood?, and, How meaningful is their participation?
7. HRBA to Development also focuses on the dynamics of power, the proper distribution of power, and the consequent transformation of relationships. The rights based approach creates opportunities for those who might otherwise be excluded.

8. HRBA to Development requires a shift in paradigm, to see that people live in poverty because they are excluded. Policies may be redirected from fighting poverty to fighting against exclusion.
9. HRBA requires the understanding of the relationship between the rights-holder and the duty-bearer (State). Duty-bearers ensure that the human rights of the rights-holders are respected, protected, and fulfilled. This is not to say, however, that the State is responsible for providing everything; rather, the State has the obligation to create conditions that enable all duty-bearers to uphold their obligations.
10. Taking into consideration the context in ASEAN, HRBA to Development should be developed locally. Universal human rights principles, namely: equality, nondiscrimination, participation, inclusion, accountability, transparency, and the rule of law, must be upheld.


The following are the recommendations of the workshop:

1. Advance a common understanding of HRBA through human rights education and training of both duty-bearers and rights-holders.
2. To enable a meaningful participation by the people, particularly the disadvantaged and marginalized groups of society, their right to information, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly shall be upheld.
3. All development strategies must include concrete commitments to respect, protect and fulfil women's rights and their actual and meaningful participation throughout the development process.
4. The application of HRBA to Development requires cooperation. The State should initiate and encourage partnership with and participation of the people.
5. Governments at all levels should consider a rights- based approach in the formulation, implementation and monitoring all development plans, programs and policies.
6. Encourage ASEAN Member States to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
7. For ASEAN to effectively become a people-oriented organization and to implement the ASEAN Community Blueprints with a rights-based approach, it is recommended that ASEAN complete soonest the revision of Annex 2 of the ASEAN Charter and expedite the adoption of t he guidelines of engagement of civil society with ASEAN.
8. Adopt a transparent process in the drafting of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration for a meaningful participation by the peoples of ASEAN.

The Workshop was co-organized and co-hosted by the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (Working Group) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). It was attended by participants representing ASEAN governments of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Lao P.D.R., Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, Representatives to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR) of Brunei, Indonesia, Lao P.D.R., the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, the national human rights institutions of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand,the ASEAN Secretariat, and civil society organizations from around the region. Also in attendance were participants from the United Nations, international civil society organizations, and international development partners.

For further information, please contact: Ms. Ma. Kristina Merginio, Communications Officer, Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, 20 Rockwell Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City 1200 Philippines; ph (632) 8997691 loc. 2109; fax: (632) 8994342; e-mai l : mkmerginio@aseanhrmech.org; www.aseanhrmech.org.

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