Centre for International Law

Human Rights in ASEAN

Human rights issues have taken on an increasing importance in ASEAN in the past 20 years. Notably, the term “human rights” entered the agenda of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting from 1993 onwards. ASEAN’s work plans of 1998 and 2003 (the Hanoi Plan of Action and the Vientiane Action Programme) included specific sections on human rights.  The Hanoi Plan of Action mentioned exchange of information and compliance with international human rights obligations, while the VAP highlighted networking among human rights mechanisms of ASEAN countries, human rights education, women and children’s rights, and migrant workers’ rights.

However, the establishment of ASEAN’s own human rights institutions did not pick up momentum until the negotiations on the ASEAN Charter in 2007.  Article 14 of the ASEAN Charter called for the establishment of an ASEAN Human Rights Body.  Accordingly, ASEAN officials completed negotiations on the terms of reference for the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), which was released in July 2009.  The Commission was established at the 15th ASEAN Summit in October 2009. The AICHR can be seen as a culmination of discussions that began at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in 1993 on the establishment of a human rights mechanism in ASEAN, and ASEAN consultations with the ASEAN Working Group for a Human Rights Mechanism (a group including national representatives, parliamentarians, academics and NGOs).

Concurrently, ASEAN has developed separate initiatives for the protection of the rights of women and children, and the protection of the rights of migrant workers. In 2007, the ASEAN Leaders signed a Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.  At the 15th ASEAN Summit in October 2009, the Leaders endorsed the Terms of Reference for an ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, and called for its establishment by the 16th ASEAN Summit in 2010.

ASEAN Documents