Joint NGO Statement to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights on the Protection of Refugees in Southeast Asia

Joint NGO Statement to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights on the Protection of Refugees in Southeast Asia

March 24, 2010

in Featured, Joint Statements, Southeast Asia, Statements

We, the undersigned, appeal to the newly-established ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to take into consideration the poor protection of the rights of refugees in this region as it meets on 28 March 2010 in Jakarta. We note with great interest that the AICHR has identified a study on migration as one of the key priorities for the coming year. This demonstrates AICHR’s recognition that the movement of people across borders is one of the most important human rights issues in the region.

In ASEAN, only Cambodia and the Philippines have ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol. Several ASEAN States who have not ratified the Convention and its Protocol host large refugee populations. Thailand is host to an estimated 368,800 refugees according to the USCRI World Refugee Survey 2009; UNHCR Malaysia has registered some 79,300 refugees as of January 2010; and new arrivals of refugees in Indonesia have increased significantly in the past year. The majority of refugees in Southeast Asia originate from Burma (Myanmar), also an ASEAN member state.

The lack of an international legal framework for the recognition of refugees amongst ASEAN has led to severe abuses of refugee rights. Not only have they often been treated as migrants in an irregular situation and therefore subject to arrest, prolonged detention and deportation, ASEAN States have also forcibly deported (refouled) some refugee populations. Members of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network along with other civil society groups in the region have already expressed concern about the treatment of the Rohingya and Bangladeshi “boat people” in 2009, as well as the forcible deportation (refoulement) of the Uighurs from Cambodia and the Lao Hmong from Thailand at the beginning of 2010 (see statements ).

As the AICHR begins its work, we re-emphasise the importance of upholding the following principles in the ASEAN region:

1. Refuge must be provided to those in need of international protection; granting of asylum should be considered a humanitarian action and should not be considered as against the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN Member States

2. No asylum seeker or refugee should be forcibly returned (refouled) to his/her country of origin;

3. The rights of all refugees and migrants must be respected;

4. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) must be granted full and unconditional access to all asylum seekers and refugees, in particular, those in detention centres and prisons;

5. Regardless of whether States have ratified the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, States have obligations to refugees, in particular, the principle of non-refoulement in customary international law and the duty to cooperate with UNHCR under the terms of the UN Charter and relevant General Assembly resolutions.

We urge the AICHR to:

1. Use its mandate to facilitate the development a regional solution for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees, which respects and protects their rights based on international human rights standards.

2. Call on ASEAN States to grant UNHCR full and unconditional access to asylum seekers, refugees, stateless and displaced persons within their borders

3. Call on ASEAN States to uphold their international obligations towards refugees, in particular, the principle of non-refoulement in international customary law

4. Call on ASEAN States who have not yet ratified and implemented the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol to do so followed by the enactment and implementation of a domestic legal framework.( AICHR Terms of Reference: 4.5)

5. Call on ASEAN States to engage in dialogue and consultation with civil society organisations and other stakeholders on the issue of asylum seekers and refugees through regional and national fora.

6. Call on Burma (Myanmar) to respect the human rights of all its people including the Rohingyas

We are committed to assisting the AICHR in the fulfillment of these recommendations.

Act for peace
Arakan Project
Asian Migrant Centre (AMC)
Association of Family Members of the Disappeared (AFMD)
Committee For Asian Women (CAW)
Fahamu Refugee Programme
Foundation for Media Alternatives
Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW)
Health Equity Initiatives
Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre
Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)
Human Rights and Development Foundation
Human Rights Working Group (HRWG)
INHURED International
International Detention Coalition
Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group (GONGGAM)
Malaysian Social Research Institute
Maryknoll Refugee Service
Mekong Migration Network (MMN)
National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
New Zealand National Refugee Network
Other Media
Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP)
Pakistan International Human Rights Organization
Peoples Empowerment Foundation
PPR Nepal
Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA)
Socio Legal Information Centre
Southeast Asia Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (SEASUCS)
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)
Research and Advocacy for Women network
MASUM (Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha)
SANTI (South Asia Network Against Torture & Impunity)
Pax Romana