Civil society organizations across Southeast Asia on Saturday called on their governments to prepare the ground for the establishment of an independent regional court to promote and protect human rights and prosecute abuses by member states.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Civil Society Conference (ACSC) said it was time for the regional bloc to create its own human rights court, especially since governments in the region were “installing laws and committing actions that continue to destroy the enabling environment for civil society organizations and grassroots organizations.”
“Ordinary innocent people become targets of extrajudicial killings. Leaders of groups challenging government policies are harassed, jailed, disappeared or even killed,” said Jelen Paclarin, ACSC’s regional steering committee chair.
Paclarin said the latest reports show 1,302 cases of forced disappearance in the region, with the Philippines topping the list with 625 cases, followed by Timor-Leste (428) and Indonesia (163).
ACSC representatives met on Saturday with Asean ministers from the 10-member regional bloc to raise the human rights issue and their demand to prioritize people’s rights, ensure just and lasting peace, provide decent work and social protection, as well as address the roots of forced migration.
Lee Shook Fong of Malaysia’s Center for Independent Journalism said the envisioned court could help uphold human rights and freedom in the region while adjudicating violations by governments as well as private corporations.
The tribunal would be similar to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights established in 1979, and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights founded in 2004.
Paclarin said the call to establish the court was prompted by the absence of a regional mechanism and body with human rights experts to monitor and investigate abuses, not the growing number of alleged extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.