Recognising the important work of the many active civil society organisations across the region, the experts expressed concern about “a worrying deterioration in the environment in which they operate.”
“Human rights defenders, social activists, lawyers, journalists, independent media and even parliamentarians trying to speak out and protect the rights of others, increasingly face a multitude of risks ranging from judicial harassment and prosecution to threats, disappearances and killings,” said the experts.
They observed rising numbers of cases of serious human rights violations affecting among others, people working on women’s rights, environmental and land issues and lawyers dealing with drug cases.
The experts called on the 10 ASEAN Member States to amend or repeal existing legislation and to reconsider draft laws that are being or could be applied to criminalize or restrict the vital work of civil society.
“We condemn the public vilification, harassment, arrests and killings of members of civil society, and call on Member States to rigorously uphold their duty to ensure the freedom and protection of those exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” the experts said.
“Independent media, members of civil society and human rights defenders should be viewed as partners and as an essential element of democracy.”
The experts highlighted that these rights also apply online, expressing dismay at the increasing harassment and prosecutions of bloggers, journalists and social media users.
They also urged Member States to do more to protect all vulnerable groups, reminding governments that inclusion and meaningful participation are elements of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Welcoming the efforts of the ASEAN human rights mechanisms to promote human rights in the region, the experts highlighted that the 50th anniversary of ASEAN provides an important opportunity for Member States to publicly renew their individual and collective commitments to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration and international human rights conventions, both in practice and spirit.
They encouraged the governments to see human rights monitoring and reporting, not as a threat, but as a positive tool that can help them comply with these commitments.
“This summit should be seen as an opportunity to make real progress on these issues and to show the world that the Member States of ASEAN are fully committed to securing the human rights of all in the region,” the group said.
(*) The UN experts: Ms. Annalisa Ciampi, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar