When one thinks of Southeast Asia, “human rights” isn’t the first term to spring to mind—unless it’s in a negative context. While the ongoing violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State is a particularly egregious example of a human rights catastrophe unfolding in the region, there isn’t a single member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with a decent human rights record.

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) was established in 2009. The body, made up of representatives from all 10 member states, has a mandate “[t]o develop strategies for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” within ASEAN. But AICHR has come under fire throughout its existence for being ineffectual.

“AICHR right now is not an institution for protection of human rights for us,” says Emerlynne Gil, senior international legal advisor at the International Commission of Jurists in Southeast Asia. “Instead, we view it as an institution that still needs to be further built to be effective in addressing human rights concerns in the region.”

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Kirsten Han

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean journalist whose work often revolves around the themes of social justice, human rights, politics and democracy. Her bylines have appeared in publications like The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Asia Times and Waging Nonviolence. As an activist, Kirsten has advocated for an end to the death penalty in Singapore, and is a founding member of abolitionist group We Believe in Second Chances.