[Statement] ASEAN Human Rights Declaration Limited by ‘morality’ -Southeast Asian Women´s Caucus on ASEAN

ASEAN Human Rights Declaration Limited by ‘morality’
Say Women’s Organisations

The   Southeast Asian Women´s Caucus on ASEAN has expressed disappointment in the final version of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) adopted by ASEAN leaders on 18 November 2012.

The Women´s Caucus said that the Declaration has too many limitations and loopholes to be useful. “The Declaration has failed to uphold international standards” said the Caucus. “The Declaration makes rights subject to national laws, but national laws may discriminate against women and may not be fully compliant with international human rights standards. The Declaration also states that rights need to be ‘balanced’ with responsibilities which undermines existing commitments that ASEAN states are party to” she added.

The Caucus particularly denounced the inclusion of general limitations on rights premised on ‘public morality’, as being restrictive and a failure to uphold existing international obligations as well as other ASEAN declarations. “The idea that human rights can be limited to protect ‘public morality’ is really concerning” said Kate Lappin from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development.” There is no definition of public morality in the Declaration to ensure it is interpreted progressively. Women in ASEAN still live in unequal societies, where culture and tradition dictate a lesser and differentiated status for women. Thus, notions of morality are most commonly used against women, to control women’s bodies and sexuality” she added.

Women’s rights and legal experts were consulted in the lead up to civil society submissions and all agreed that the subjective term ‘morality’ is an unnecessary and dangerous basis for limiting rights to be included in international law and is most likely to be used to limit the rights of women and marginalised groups[1].

Women’s groups campaigned to have the reference to public morality removed from the draft declaration. Numerous international human rights groups and experts agreed that the public morality clause is an anachronism that doesn’t belong in a modern declaration on human rights.

It appears that the majority of the ten member states agreed with the women’s rights activists and supported its removal. However a few states one being Malaysia, a member of the Human Rights Council strongly disagreed and insisted on the retention of the clause. “Allowing some states´ out dated concerns to prevail reduces ASEAN to a body striving for the lowest common denominator” said Ivy Josiah, Executive Director of Women’s Aid Organisation. She further added “consensus has its perils when the national interests of one member state triumph at the expense of universal human rights”.

The Women’s Caucus calls on all ASEAN states to ensure that the Declaration is interpreted progressively, without undermining the established universal principles and standards of human rights. ASEAN states will be held accountable in ensuring that the spirit and principles of the Declaration in no way negate the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN as stated in Article 40 of the Declaration

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¹ The report containing the opinions of experts consulted can be accessed at http://www.apwld.org

19th November 2012
Chiang Mai, Thailand

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