JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia today called on ASEAN leaders to make good on commitments included in the Sunnylands Declaration, which was unveiled at the end of this week’s US-ASEAN Summit in California.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) specifically noted commitments to strengthen democracy, promote and protect human rights, and work toward inclusive economic development, but voiced wariness over the resolve of ASEAN leaders to follow through.
“ASEAN leaders have made these kinds of commitments before, including in the ASEAN Charter, but what has come of it? Up until now, we’ve seen backsliding, rather than progress,” said APHR Chairperson and Malaysian MP Charles Santiago.
“In order for things to be different this time, ASEAN leaders must step up to the plate and make good on their promises. That means taking concrete steps, including restoring democracy in Thailand and ending the persecution of opposition leaders in Cambodia and Malaysia, among many other to-dos.”
In their joint declaration, US and ASEAN leaders at the Sunnylands Summit confirmed shared commitments to “strengthening democracy, enhancing good governance and adherence to the rule of law, promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, encouraging the promotion of tolerance and moderation, and protecting the environment.”
While parliamentarians supported the inclusion of these commitments in the declaration, along with pledges to address human trafficking and climate change, they urged for tangible measures to be taken to ensure that leaders truly adhere to these principles.
In particular, MPs called for undemocratic laws at the country level to be repealed and for a stronger regional human rights architecture to be put in place, including a more robust mandate for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). They highlighted the utter lack of democratic processes in Brunei, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as ongoing rights concerns in states like Cambodia, Malaysia, and Myanmar, despite the holding of elections.
Parliamentarians also noted that the Sunnylands Declaration’s support for “a rules-based regional and international order,” as well as the included commitment to uphold “the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, the ASEAN Charter and international law,” demands adherence to international human rights standards.
“Human rights are fundamental to a rules-based international order, and ASEAN states cannot hide behind ‘non-interference’ to skirt their international obligations. ASEAN itself must be strengthened to enable it to hold member states accountable,” Santiago said.
In addition to its focus on human rights and good governance, the Sunnylands Declaration also emphasized the importance of “shared prosperity,” as well as “sustainable, inclusive economic growth.” Parliamentarians called on regional leaders to pursue these goals in a substantive way and to take gender into account, particularly in the context of the ongoing process of ASEAN integration.
“These shouldn’t be empty slogans. We need a region that looks out for all people, not just those at the very top. We must work toward a truly democratic, people-centered ASEAN, where the rights of all citizens, including women and children, are protected and the benefits of economic progress are enjoyed by all,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Sundari, who is a member of the Indonesian Parliament.
In advance of the Summit, over 100 parliamentarians from Southeast Asia sent a joint letter to President Obama, calling on him to make human rights concerns central to discussions with ASEAN leaders. Among the concerns raised in the letter were the continued detention of political prisoners, land rights violations, the denial of free elections, and restrictions on fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.