JAKARTA — Citing various threats to the independence of legislatures and the security of their members, lawmakers from across Southeast Asia today called on regional governments to take measures to halt harassment of MPs, counter threats to their safety, and enable elected representatives to fulfill their duties.
Marking Human Rights Day, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urged governments to take these steps in recognition of the important contribution played by parliaments in the promotion and protection of human rights for all. The collective of regional lawmakers also noted the responsibility of MPs to act appropriately and defend core democratic values, including pluralism and minority rights.
“As we celebrate Human Rights Day this year, we stand in solidarity with our fellow parliamentarians. In too many recent instances, members of parliament have faced unprecedented threats, attacks, and persecution simply for doing their jobs,” said APHR Board Member Mu Sochua, a member of the Cambodian National Assembly.
“Governments are increasingly using the same playbook on MPs that they have been using on dissidents and activists for years, targeting them for expressing legitimate government criticism and abusing the justice system and other institutions to pursue political agendas. This is a regional problem that is undermining democratic governance and the ability of legislators to do their jobs and protect the rights of those who elected them.”
Politically motivated harassment against parliamentarians from Southeast Asia is not a new phenomenon, but the number of cases has accelerated in the past two years, APHR said. Governments have relied on the abuse of existing laws to silence opposition voices, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of MPs. Parliamentarians have also faced physical attacks and intimidation, often coupled with impunity for their attackers.
- In Cambodia, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has been living in exile since late-2015 as a result of several criminal cases against him and was officially barred from returning in October of this year. Two senators and one member of the National Assembly have also been sentenced to prison terms since October. Despite a recent royal pardon for deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, he and other members of parliament still face the looming threat of potential criminal charges. In October 2015, two members of the National Assembly were brutally beaten by a pro-government mob.
- In Malaysia, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been in prison since February 2015 on what many have argued are politically motivated charges. At least eight other MPs have also faced charges, including four convicted, with the government relying heavily on statutes including the Sedition Act, Peaceful Assembly Act, and Official Secrets Act.
- In Thailand, former members of parliament have faced restrictions on their travel and activities since a military coup in May 2014. Former parliamentarians have also been arbitrarily detained for criticizing the ruling military junta.
- In the Philippines, concerns have been raised about the rights and privacy of members of Congress, as well as misogynistic double standards, in the context of a House investigation that has focused, in part, on Senator Leila de Lima, a fierce critic of the President’s war on drugs.
“Each year on Human Rights Day we are reminded of the essential task of safeguarding the rights of all peoples. Parliaments and their members are critical to achieving this goal, and we hope that they are able to continue to do so in the months and years ahead,” said APHR Board Member Eva Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.
“At the same time, parliamentarians have a responsibility to promote tolerance and inclusion. They must also respect the rights and contributions of women and not engage in gender-based harassment. Parliamentarians are not above the law, and must behave in a manner that respects the rights of others and defends core values of democracy and pluralism,” Sundari added.
As defenders of the rights of all people, APHR and its member MPs expressed solidarity with all those seeking to prevent violations and ensure access to justice for survivors. They also warned against efforts to dilute or undermine the effectiveness of parliaments and other institutions intended to defend democracy and guard against authoritarianism.
“As we witness a region-wide deterioration of democracy and the rule of law, now more than ever, Southeast Asia needs strong voices in parliaments calling for justice and human rights,” Mu Sochua said.
“Authorities in the Philippines are waging a deadly war on drugs, which has already killed over 5,000 people. In Myanmar, the leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi, has failed to defend the rights of minorities, especially the Rohingya. Parliamentarians should be at the forefront of the struggle to fight these and other abuses.”
Human Rights Day marks the day in 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was officially adopted by the UN General Assembly. The UDHR outlines the rights afforded to all people. Its guarantees were expanded upon in subsequent binding treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).