Momentum for torture prevention in ASEAN region

Monday, May 29, 2017

“Now is the time for us to increase torture prevention in ASEAN.” This is the conclusion of the information meeting organised by APT as a side-event to the third Universal Periodic Reviews of both Indonesia and the Philippines on 8 May 2017.

Building on his national experience, Chito Gascon, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), shared a recent example of the importance of monitoring places of detention. Mid-April, the CHRP found a secrete cell in a police station in Manila and recommended an end to all forms of secret detention. Gascon also called for bridging the gap between the existence of good laws and the lack of implementation, a phenomenon called “doble kara” in the Philippines.

Capitalising on recent signs of interest and openness at the regional level was also the key message delivered by Rafendi Djamin, Advisor to Indonesia’s Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) and former Indonesia Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Human Rights Commission (AICHR). He stressed the interest towards addressing issues relevant to deprivation of liberty in the region shown by the AICHR, and other ASEAN thematic commissions (called sectoral bodies), Bar associations, the judiciary, and national human rights institutions. Djamin added further on the need to ensure that efforts are constructive and cooperative with the view of promoting the added value of torture prevention for ASEAN member states.

Finally, recent advances and potential for prevention within the ASEAN region were underlined by Edmund Bon, Malaysian Representative to AICHR. The first AICHR 'Judicial Colloquium on the implementation of international human rights standards by the judiciary' was an opportunity for concrete exchanges between judges, judicial officers and legal practitioners. Furthermore, prevention of torture can be considered as a cross-cutting issue in ASEAN. It could be integrated into the region’s priority issues, such as migration or women and children in detention.

Challenges remain, such as a culture of impunity and the difficulty of addressing the issue of torture in the regional human rights agenda. However, the discussions have shown that with stronger support and cooperation among all actors in the region, a focus on prevention could have bright potential. 50 years after its establishment, it is time for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), together with National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), NGOs and civil society to plant the seeds of torture prevention in the region.