[Appeal] AICHR must take a stand against enforced/involuntary disappearances in the region -SAPA TFAHR

26 April 2013

H.E. Pehin Dato Dr. Awang Hj. Ahmad bin Hj. Jumat
ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
Jalan Subok, Bandar Seri Begawan
Brunei Darussalam BD 2710
Tel: (673) 226 1177, 226 1291-5
Fax: (673) 226 1709, 2904
Email: aseanbru@mfa.gov.bn, bruneirep.aichr@gmail.com

Your Excellency,

Re: AICHR must take a stand against enforced/involuntary disappearances in the region

ForumAsia LogoThe Solidarity for Asian Peoples’ Advocacy – Task Force on ASEAN and Human Rights (SAPA TFAHR) writes to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) again to convey our disappointment and regret at the AICHR’s continuing silence on the disappearance of prominent Laotian development worker and activist Sombath Somphone. SAPA TFAHR’s co-convenor, FORUM-ASIA, had previously written to you, on 4 January 2013 and on 1 February 2013, on the same matter[1]. Sombath’s disappearance now extends into the fifth month and it is highly lamentable that the primary organ charged with the promotion and protection of human rights in the region has refused to take a stand or even expressed any concern and solidarity.

We stress that the issue of enforced/involuntary disappearance is a human rights violation that not only occurs in Lao PDR, but is a regional concern that is endemic to ASEAN. You must be well aware of similar cases in Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines, where accountability for victims of political violence and disappearances remain elusive even until today.[2] In this context, any insistence of upholding the ASEAN principles of non-interference and territorial sovereignty over principles of human rights and accountability would be highly misplaced and unacceptable.

While the AICHR claims that it is not within its mandate to act on individual complaints, it can certainly at the very least develop a public position and plan of approach to address the issue of enforced/involuntary disappearances. Otherwise, it risks sending a message that such egregious human rights abuses are allowed to go on with impunity. Adopting a public position and plan of approach to address this issue is definitely well within the mandate and functions of the AICHR.[3]

It is high time that AICHR responds to questions of its relevance for human rights in the region. Staying silent on Sombath’s disappearance is a convenient but short-sighted approach because human rights violations related to land, natural resources and the environment are likely to increase as the region embarks on a zealous pursuit of economic development and integration towards 2015. The AICHR must stress to individual ASEAN member states on the urgent need for an enabling environment and democratic space for all human rights defenders, including development workers and civil society organizations, to do their legitimate work without fear of reprisals.

The AICHR’s Terms of Reference is due for a review in 2014, but it must not delay any longer to rethink its lackluster position on human rights. The disappearance of Sombath Somphone is not one that can be simply dismissed as yet another statistic because of the physical and mental anguish dealt to friends, family and the community at large. The basic and fundamental rights to life, liberty and security of the person must be upheld at all times.

We thus call on the AICHR to boldly confront the issue and take a stand against enforced/involuntary disappearances. Maintaining a veil of silence is neither constructive nor exemplary of a regional human rights body. We reassure you that continued pressure and attention will be applied on the AICHR and all relevant stakeholders to demand accountability on the disappearance of Sombath Somphone and other victims in the region. The integrity of the AICHR is at stake and it must take action decisively and promptly. Otherwise, the values and reputation of the AICHR will not stand up to scrutiny despite being in existence for five years.

If you require more information, please kindly contact Joses Kuan at tel: +66 83544 5166 or email: joses@forum-asia.org; or Atnike Sigiro at +62 8129401766 or email: atnike@forum-asia.org.

We thank you for your kind attention and hope to receive a reply from AICHR.

Yours truly,

Giyoun Kim
Acting Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA
Co-convenor of SAPA TFAHR

Chalida Tajaroensuk
Director, People’s Empowerment Foundation
Co-convenor of SAPA TFAHR

1. H.E. Le Loung Minh, Secretary-General of Association of Southeast Asian Nations
2. H.E. Om Yentieng, Representative of Cambodia to AICHR
3. H.E. Mr. Rafendi Djamin, Representative of Indonesia to AICHR
4. H.E. Mr. Bounkeut Sangsomsak, Representative of Laos to AICHR
5. H.E. Dato’ Sri Dr. Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Representative of Malaysia to AICHR
6. H.E. Amb. Kyaw Tint Swe, Representative of Myanmar to AICHR
7. H.E. Amb. Rosario Gonzales Manalo, Representative of the Philippines to AICHR
8. H.E. Amb. Chan Heng Chee, Representative of Singapore to AICHR
9. H.E. Mr. Seree Nonthasoot, Representative of Thailand to AICHR
10. H.E. Amb.Le Thi Thu, Representative of Vietnam to AICHR
11. Ms. Leena Ghosh, Assistant Director, AIPA, ASEAN Foundation, AICHR and Other
ASEAN Associated Entities Division, ASEAN Secretariat

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