Recently two Mekong Legal Network (MLN) lawyers participated in a civil society consultation with around 60 representatives from civil society organizations and people’s movements at the Civil Society Forum on ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in Manila, Philippines. This meeting was in preparation for the consultation meeting with civil society organizations called by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) on September 12, 2012.

The consultation process for the Declaration has been problematic, with the AICHR reluctant to share drafts of the declaration, only inviting certain groups to participate in consultations and also several countries in ASEAN have yet to organize any national consultation with civil society. Despite the challenges, the MLN lawyers and the other representatives of civil society at the Forum drafted their own submission to give to AICHR.

The approach of both the MLN and ERI this year while the Declaration has been drafted has also been to criticize the consultation process but at the same time to try and engage as much as possible. In June, the MLN, ERI and the Sydney Centre for International Law at Sydney University in Australia submitted a joint submission to the AICHR that consisted of a cover letter and suggested draft of the AHRD (see below). Back in April, ERI also submitted to AICHR a joint submission with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) on the linkages between human rights and the environment (below). These joint submissions were influential in the ASEAN civil society organizations’ submission thanks to the efforts of the two participating MLN lawyers.

The next step is for the AICHR to provide a draft of the Declaration to ASEAN Foreign Ministers. ERI and the MLN will continue to engage in the drafting process – the fight to have an ASEAN human rights declaration that meets international standards continues!

Esther Kiobel outside the US Supreme Court