APHR members travelled to Brussels, Belgium, from 10-13 October to meet with members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and other EU officials, as well as to address the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Sub-Committee on Human Rights on issues related to trade, democracy, and human rights in Southeast Asia.
The trip included more than 18 meetings over three days, with the APHR delegation being received by top-level EU diplomats, including Deputy Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Political Director for the European External Action Service Mr. Jean-Christophe Belliard and EU Special Representative for Human Rights Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis.
The delegation included APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago (MP, Malaysia), Vice-Chair Mu Sochua (MP, Cambodia), and members Kasit Piromya (Former MP, Thailand) and Mercy Barends (MP, Indonesia).
Side meetings were also held with political groups and MEPs identified as potential partners and supportive of APHR’s mission to uphold and improve human rights and democracy in Southeast Asia. These included MEP Ana Gomes, former Portuguese Ambassador to Indonesia, and MEP Barbara Lochbieler, a human rights champion and member of the European Parliament’s ASEAN Delegation.
APHR members also spoke at a public seminar hosted by the European Institute of Asian Studies on the subject of “Engaging Civil Society in Free Trade Negotiations.”
The visit took place the week of the ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting (AEMM), which was held in Bangkok on 12-14 October. In advance of that meeting’s conclusion, nearly 100 members of the European Parliament and legislatures across Southeast Asia sent an open letter to EU and ASEAN foreign ministers, calling on them to take immediate action to secure the release of prisoners of conscience in Southeast Asia.
During the address to the Foreign Affairs Committee, APHR delegates called for human rights impact assessments to be an essential prerequisite in all trade discussions and negotiations. They also shared their view that democracy was under threat in Southeast Asia and that the EU’s voice on the need to uphold standards was lacking in some areas.
APHR delegates urged the EU to work more directly with genuine forces supporting democracy in the region and open more Track 2 and Track 3 relations as part of a wider policy to work to counter threats to democracy and the growth of authoritarian leadership.
The visit was just the beginning of what APHR hopes to be the continued development of ties and collaboration to engage key EU policymakers and the European Parliament on regional important issues and developments. Follow-up work will include finding ways to ensure sustained and effective collaboration between MPs in Southeast Asia and their counterparts in Europe to work towards upholding and improving human rights and the rule of law.