By: Kyle Lemargie
The terms of reference for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) are undergoing a scheduled five year review and possible revision. Established ASEAN norms of consensus decision making and non-interference in the internal affairs of member states have limited the mandate of the region’s overarching human rights body; however, AICHR has also been criticized by civil society for not doing enough within these narrow boundaries. Vietnam’s recent ratification of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) leaves Brunei as the only ASEAN member state that has yet to ratify the convention. The rights of persons with disabilities are thus a key area of emerging consensus within ASEAN, and, as such, offer a unique area of opportunity for AICHR to more fully apply its mandate.
This emerging consensus on protecting, promoting and fulfilling rights of persons with disabilities is further captured in Southeast Asia’s endorsement of the Asia Pacific’s Incheon Strategy to Make the Right Real. The Incheon Strategy is the first regionally agreed disability-inclusive development framework for the Asia Pacific. The strategy’s goals offer several promising areas of overlap with AICHR’s existing mandate. These links suggest that deeper AICHR engagement with the Incheon Strategy offer a win-win scenario: ASEAN’s 90 million persons with disabilities can benefit from the influence AICHR could bring to efforts to “make the right real” while AICHR stands to gain deeper credibility amongst national, subregional and regional institutions for the active exercise of its mandate.
Goal 2 of the Incheon Strategy and Article 29 of CRPD endeavor to uphold the political rights of persons with disabilities. To the extent that AICHR uses supporting clauses in its current mandate (and any revisions) to help ASEAN states uphold their commitments to political inclusion of this marginalized group, the Commission will gain valuable institutional experience addressing political rights. Unsurprisingly, political rights have been one of the most challenging areas for application of AICHR’s mandate. This may require key states within ASEAN to take initiative to proactively share and discuss their Incheon Strategy efforts and findings under Goal 2 with the Commission.
- As civil society, state and regional officials work to implement the Incheon Strategy, concerted efforts should be made to draw AICHR into this work. This includes efforts under the Incheon Strategy’s Goal 2 which focuses on upholding the right to political inclusion for persons with disabilities.
- As AICHR adjusts its TOR and establishes its post-2015 workplan, it should seek to make the rights of persons with disabilities prominent in its planned programs and activity. This new focus will leverage the region’s emerging disability rights consensus for AICHR’s own institutional growth.