December 14: The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration: Context and Implications

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December 14, 2012: Katherine Southwick
(Click to enlarge) Ms. Katherine Southwick gave her timely presentation less than a month after the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration was passed.
(Click to enlarge) Ms. Katherine Southwick gave her timely presentation less than a month after the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration was passed.

The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration: Context and Implications

WASHINGTON, DC (December 14, 2012) – In recent years, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has taken significant steps to establish a regional human rights system. The ASEAN Foreign Ministers achieved a milestone with the signing of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) in November 2012 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. However, the AHRD has received mixed reviews. Civil society groups have complained of lack of meaningful consultation throughout the drafting process, and some observers have raised concerns that aspects of the Declaration do not meet international standards.

Based on experiences through the American Bar Association, Ms. Katherine Southwick shared perspectives on what different stakeholders sought in the content of the AHRD and what the AHRD’s implications are for human rights in ASEAN in an off-the-record presentation at the East-West Center in Washington. In her briefing, she outlined diverse social, legal, and political environment that that ASEAN Interim Committee on Human Rights was operating in, the drafting process the AHRD went through, and the key concerns that were raised by critics regionally and internationally.

She was joined by Ms. Christina Cerna, adjunct professor at Gerogetown University Law School, who served as a discussant. As the former Principal Human Rights Specialist for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of American States, Ms. Cerna provided comparative background explaining how the AHRD fits within the existing body of regional Human Rights agreements. She concluded that while the AHRD in its current form lacks the enforcement and investigation functions of other such systems, there is still excitement in the international community at the prospect of an "Asian human rights system," however fledgling.

Ms. Katherine Southwick was recently based in the Manila office of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI). Since 2009, she has provided technical assistance to ABA ROLI’s programs concerning ASEAN and human rights, and has supported programs on judicial reform and anti-trafficking in persons, among others. Ms. Southwick has worked in the Office of the Legal Adviser in the U.S. Department of State and for human rights organizations in India and Uganda. She holds a B.A. and a J.D. from Yale University.

Ms. Christina M. Cerna retired from her post as Principal Human Rights Specialist at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the OAS in January 2012, after 33 years with the OAS. She is a Visiting Scholar with George Washington University Law School and is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law School. She chairs the International Human Rights Law Committee of the International Law Association. She holds an M.A. from Ludwig-Maximilian Universitat, a J.D. from American University, and an L.L.M from Columbia University.

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