Cha-Am Hua Hin, Thailand, 23 October 2009

Your Majesty,


Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have gathered here today to mark yet another significant milestone in the evolution of ASEAN, with the inauguration of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, or AICHR.

On this occasion, we, the Heads of State and Government of ASEAN, have adopted the Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration to welcome the establishment of this new principal organ of ASEAN.

We wish to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to all those who have contributed to the success of this common endeavour, especially the High Level Panel and our Foreign Ministers, without whose tireless efforts and important contributions all this would not have been possible.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The history of Southeast Asia is clearly evidenced by the quest for freedom and the improvement of the lives of our peoples. Human rights is an important component of our people’s lives, and it is important for the people-based community we plan to build. But the success of AICHR goes beyond the advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms as envisaged by the ASEAN Charter. Ultimately, it is all about the commitment of Member States to enhancing the quality of the life of ASEAN peoples, empowering and engaging them in ASEAN’s community building process, all of which are the fundamental basis of a genuine community for peoples.

The Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration reinforces these commitments, envisages AICHR as an overarching institution for cooperation on human rights in ASEAN that will continue to evolve and be strengthened. Most importantly, it conveys our pledge to provide the fullest support for the work of AICHR, both in terms of political will and resources.

In this regard, I have the pleasure to announce that the ASEAN Member States have committed itself to providing two hundred thousand US dollars for the start-up fund to support the activities of AICHR during its first year of operation. More support will definitely be needed, and we hope that more will be forthcoming, both from within and outside ASEAN, in order to assure that the necessary resources do not fall short of the high expectations that we all have placed upon AICHR.

Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate the Representatives to AICHR on their appointment by all ASEAN Member States. The solemn task now falls on you to fulfill the mandate and functions of this body and hence the aspirations of the ASEAN people.

This is indeed a significant advancement for ASEAN in terms of placing human rights at the centre of ASEAN’s agenda. Of course, we realize there are concerns that the mandate and functions of AICHR do not go far enough. But the fact of the matter is, AICHR is not an end in itself but an evolutionary process towards strengthening the human rights architecture within the region.

The responsibility now rests on all of us to work together to move AICHR forward – to make it credible and effective in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Member States should continue with their efforts, both individually and collectively, in support of AICHR. National institutions should be further strengthened as they are the most effective bodies to safeguard against human rights violations and provide remedy to victims. Regional norms and institutions have to be further developed in order to complement the universal norms and international instruments to which we all adhere. ASEAN should be able to address human rights in all dimensions – be they civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights, as well as the rights of vulnerable groups.

In this connection, I am pleased to announce that the TOR of the ASEAN Commission on the Rights of Women and Children has recently been completed, which will lead to the establishment of this Commission by next year. This and other regional mechanisms shall be part and parcel of the ASEAN human rights regime under the single umbrella of the AICHR.

Our approach is a constructive one. For ASEAN, the issue of human rights is not about condemnation, but about awareness, empowerment and improvement. Through AICHR, we shall not only demonstrate to the world that human rights is a priority, but also show them realistic and constructive ways to deal with it — through the promotion of dialogue and cooperation — starting from issues of common concerns and interests, issues relating to the humanitarian side and issues that some of us may already set good examples, so we can share and reproduce best practices throughout the region.

Although AICHR is an intergovernmental body, we should all feel a sense of ownership in this new entity. All of us, whether as governments, civil society or other stakeholders, have the responsibility to ensure the success of AICHR in carrying out its tasks. For the members of civil society present here, you should rest assured that you now have a new partner with whom to work. Together, we can help shape an ASEAN human rights agenda that truly makes a difference in the lives of our peoples. Support and participation at the very grassroots level will go a long way towards further reinforcing the political will and commitment at the government level.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have now turned an important page in ASEAN’s fledgling regionalism. 42 years ago, ASEAN came together out of the mutual conviction of our governments to live in peace, security and prosperity. Our dynamism has also since then stemmed partly from the engagement of our private sector in driving our economic integration process.

But ultimately, ASEAN’s regionalism must draw strength from our peoples in order for us to achieve a genuine ASEAN Community – a community not only of peace and prosperity, but also one in which there is a mutual respect for human dignity and human development.


Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of all Heads of State and Government of ASEAN, it is now my great pleasure to formally inaugurate the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.