Chapter 1: Human Rights in Asia: Institutions, Norms and Politics
Thomas W.D. Davis On 29 October 2009 the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) inaugurated the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). Though long anticipated, the Commission’s arrival met with a mixed response. Amnesty International (2009) and Human Rights Watch (2009) criticised the AICHR’s terms of reference for emphasising rights promotion over protection and for failing to establish a common, transparent selection process for AICHR Commissioners. National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) members of the Asia Pacific Forum noted the absence of a firm requirement that the Commission, especially via a standing secretariat, consult with them (SEA NHRI Forum, 2009). Other critics questioned the legitimacy of a human rights body that permitted representatives from countries such as Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia, where serious rights abuses continue to occur (Doherty, 2009). In its ambiguities and its elisions, and in the disparate attitudes of its member states, the AICHR embodies the complexity of human rights implementation and promotion in Asia. It also represents how local, regional and international political drivers of rights change may work at cross purposes and produce unintended results. That the Intergovernmental Commission exists at all is cited by some as evidence of the persuasiveness of international human rights institutions and agents (Kelsall, 2009). Conversely, the length of time it has taken for a commission of this kind to be founded in Asia, and that it only incompletely reflects international rights law, is taken by critics to reveal the limitations of international institutions in instigating state change on...
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