Protecting ASEAN human rights defenders and the case of Sombath Somphone

April 30, 2014

This radio interview [http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/asia-pacific/whos-protecting-aseans-human-rights-defenders/1302596] is interesting because of its content but also because it found its way on the website of Terrorism Watch. If the implication is that forced disappearances are a form of state terrorism, the case of Sombath Somphone (discussed below) puts Laos in the docket:

A regional workshop in Bangkok has highlighted issues like enforced disappearances, legal support for families of the disappeared and peaceful assembly and association. High on the agenda is also protecting rights activists, within the ASEAN regional human rights system. Presenter: Sen Lam interviews Emmerlyne Gil, international legal advisor, International Commission of Jurists, Bangkok:

GIL: It is a gathering of lawyers from all over the Southeast Asian region and these lawyers are those who have experience litigating for human rights defenders.This conference is aimed to allow them to share experiences with each other and also strategies on how they overcame obstacles that they encountered in defending human rights defenders – To think about how they could play a role in developing an effective regional human rights mechanism that would be useful to their cases at the national level.

LAM: And have recent events within the ASEAN region led the ICJ or the conference organisers to believe that now, more than ever, human rights defenders need protection?

GIL: Definitely we see that there has been a lot of cases of attacks against human rights defenders in countries all over Southeast Asia. We are concentrating on the issues of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. These are the two main rights that have been restricted. We can see restrictions on freedom of expression in Vietnam, Laos, Philippines even and Thailand. And there are restrictions of freedom of association and assembly. We see them a lot in countries like Singapore and Malaysia.

…….

LAM: What does the ICJ feel about the way ASEAN has approached the case [of Sombath Somphone], because its over 18 months, has the case gone cold? (see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/laos-disappearance-of-human-rights-defender-sombath-somphone/)

GIL: The ICJ has tried to encourage the human rights body within ASEAN, which is ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights [AICHR].We have tried to encourage the AICHR to take up the case, effectively say something or address this case. There is a particular provision in their mandate, which allows them to discuss human rights issues that are common in the region and develop common approaches and positions on these issues. We learned later on that many members of the AICHR did want to take up the case of enforced disappearances, and particularly, the case of Sombath Somphone. However the lone dissenter to this proposal is Laos which evoked the principle of non-interference or non-intervention, this principle is very much embedded in the ASEAN charter. So the government of Laos considers any discussion on enforced disappearances or the case of Sombath within the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights, an interference in its internal affairs. Laos is currently running for membership within the UN Human Rights Council – to us, it’s really incongruous that they are seeking membership but would prevent other member states of the ASEAN to discuss the human rights situation in its own country.

LAM: Is there a role here for the more mature members of ASEAN, i.e. the original members, such as Singapore, such as Indonesia, possibly even Thailand, to exert their influence of Laos regarding the case of Sombath Somphone, to call for a bit more transparency and a bit more action?

GIL: Yes Thailand did play a big role in pushing for a discussion on the Sombath case within the AICHR. In fact the commissioners from Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia were the ones who proposed a discussion on this case and enforced disappearances in general. …

via Terrorism Watch: Whos protecting ASEANs human rights defenders?.

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