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Cablegate: The Asean Inter-Governmental Commission On Human

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RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #2208/01 2431218
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 311218Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8129
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 9927
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1876
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7411
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 5745
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0081
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 6931
RHEFDHS/DIA DHS WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002208


SIPDIS

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, PLEASE HANDLE ACCORDINGLY. NOT
FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM DRL TH
SUBJECT: THE ASEAN INTER-GOVERNMENTAL COMMISSION ON HUMAN
RIGHTS: NO BARK, NO BITE?

REF: A. 08 BANGKOK 2941 (THAILAND ASSUMES ASEAN CHAIR)
B. 08 BANGKOK 3701 (ASEAN CHARTER)
C. BANGKOK 517 (14TH ASEAN SUMMIT)

BANGKOK 00002208 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: ASEAN plans to launch its newly-developed
human rights body, the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on
Human Rights (AICHR) at the 15th ASEAN Summit in October in
Thailand. Although local and international NGOs have already
described the Terms of Reference (ToR) adopted by Foreign
Ministers in July as "toothless," Thai academics and human
rights activists involved in the drafting process have
defended the document as a step in the right direction.
While one could characterize the AICHR ToR as a significant
achievement given ASEAN dynamics and the need for buy-in from
"new ASEAN" members Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, the
ToR only provides for an "evolutionary framework" to be
re-evaluated after a five-year review period. It is unclear
whether this body will be able to enhance its legitimacy and
make concrete gains during the ensuing chairmanships of
Vietnam, Brunei, and Cambodia. Thailand is attempting to set
a precedent of a transparent process in selecting its
representative, involving civil society and likely selecting
a non-governmental official, following its similar earlier
decision to send an academic expert to the existing High
Level Panel on the Human Rights Body. END SUMMARY

MOVING TOWARDS AN ASEAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (SBU) On July 20, the ASEAN member nations took another
significant step towards the creation of a regional human
rights body as dictated by Article 14 of the ASEAN Charter
(which entered into force December 2008, see Ref B). By
adopting the Terms of Reference (ToR) drafted by the High
Level Panel on the Human Rights Body (HLP) for what will be
known as the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human
Rights, ASEAN is now poised to have a human rights mechanism,
as do all other regional groupings in the world. However,
there is a decided lack of positive sentiment by human rights
observers about this development, as virtually all involved
with its creation and implementation seem resigned to a
"toothless" body tasked with only promotion, rather than
protection, of human rights.(Ref C)

3. (SBU) From early in the process of shaping the body, human
rights activists and NGOs have denigrated the proposed ToR
and resultant mechanism, calling it "decorative" (Ref B) and
a "sham" or "diplomatic window dressing." In addition to
these expected criticisms, ASEAN itself seems determined to
keep expectations low. Official ASEAN communications
emphasize that the ToR reflect a "maximum consensus" and that
the "evolutionary" nature of the platform allows for the
possibility of later "enhancement" at the five-year review.
Prime Minister Abhisit Veijajiva was even more explicit that
the body would initially focus only on promotion, but
maintained, "It is better to make a start."

4. (SBU) Longtime Thai human rights activists and academics
echo the Prime Minister's sentiment. Dr. Sriprapha
Petcharamesree of Mahidol University has been involved with
the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism
(Working Group) since the early 1990s. She told us that
members of the Working Group were laughed at for even
contemplating an ASEAN human rights mechanism, and said that
she could not help but see this latest development as a sign
of progress. While admitting her disappointment with the
ToR, she acknowledged that an incremental approach
represented the only chance for success within ASEAN's
environment of political compromise. Dr. Sriprapha revealed
that the Working Group had contemplated giving up the fight
and utilizing the ASEAN Commission on the Rights of Women and
Children as a back door method to a human rights mechanism.
In that context, the AICHR must be seen as an achievement.

THE SPECIFIC TERMS IN THE TERMS OF REFERENCE
--------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) The ToR language is general, and it arguably is open
to interpretation by the AICHR chair and members. In

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particular, Dr. Sriprapha referenced the use of terms like
"obtain information" and "prepare studies" which could be
viewed as opportunities for monitoring and interviewing
suspected victims of human rights violations. Similarly,
Homayoun Alizadeh, the Regional Representative of OHCHR in
Bangkok, highlighted the repeated use of "consult" and
"consultation" as an opportunity for interaction with civil
society. In contrast to this very general terminology is the
explicit provision that any funding or contributions from
other countries or sources "shall be used solely for human
rights promotion, capacity building and education." In that
sense, the ToR acts as a barrier to human rights protection
activities sponsored by others.

6. (SBU) Of additional note is the use of the term
"representative" rather than "commissioner" for the
designated ASEAN member participants in AICHR, suggestive to
some of a likely lack of independence of these country
representatives. With this kind of cover, according to
Alizadeh, it was unlikely that the majority of ASEAN members
would appoint impartial individuals with proven expertise in
human rights, as encouraged by the UN High Commissioner of
Human Rights Navi Pillay.

WHO MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT?
-----------------------------

7. (SBU) All observers stressed that the potential
effectiveness of the AICHR would be determined by its
composition. While High Commissioner Pillay, in her
congratulatory press release, urged that the national
selection processes for representatives allow for
"consultation and participation by all sections of society,"
only Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are likely to do
anything other than directly appoint a government official,
according to our contacts.

8. (SBU) Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has vowed that
Thailand's selection will represent Thailand's people, rather
than Thailand's government. Thailand's selection committee
met August 28 for an initial discussion on the way forward
and endorsed what it hopes will be a transparent process,
including nominations from civil society, to stand as a
precedent for other countries to follow, selection committee
member (and journalist) Kavi Chongkittavorn told us August
31. As Thailand's representative on the HLP, Chulalongkorn
University law professor Dr. Vitit Muntarbhorn was the only
HLP member who was not a government official.

9. (SBU) Both Dr. Vitit and Dr. Sriprapha -- two likely
candidates -- claim to have withdrawn themselves from
consideration. Dr. Vitit told us he believes it would be
inappropriate given his role on the HLP, and he is busy as
the UN's Special Rapporteur on North Korea; Dr. Sriprapha
prefers a behind the scenes role. Kavi predicted Surasi
Kosolnawin, a former Thai Human Rights Commissioner who has
pushed the Thai government in the past for more
accountability in the Deep South, will emerge as the Thai
representative. Dr. Vitit felt strongly that he played an
important role as the only non-governmental representative on
the HLP, and that his academic viewpoint, history as an
activist, and close relationship with civil society provided
a valuable perspective. Thailand's AICHR representative may
be called on to fulfill that role again, depending on who
else is selected.

10. (SBU) The other critical ASEAN member in this regard is
Indonesia. Thai-based NGOs who have tracked the ToR drafting
process from its inception, such as Forum Asia, note that
Indonesia was the last holdout for a stronger human rights
mechanism, one that had a protection mandate and could
undertake investigations and receive complaints. Initially
Indonesia had been joined by Thailand and the Philippines in
pushing for a higher standard, but eventually the other two
conceded, Thailand influenced by its desire to launch the
AICHR during its chairmanship. While the political
declaration accompanying the launch of AICHR in October will
fall something short of a mandate, it could go farther than
the ToR to discuss the future of AICHR and a possible roadmap

BANGKOK 00002208 003.2 OF 003


that could lead to an emphasis on human rights protection.
The document was drafted at a meeting in Jakarta last week
and the HLP plans to wrap up its work at a meeting in
Singapore in September.
JOHN

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