The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is an ASEAN regional human rights institution established in 2009.
Discussion on AICHR’s formation can be traced back to the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. In the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) the world leaders, including the ASEAN Member States of reiterated, "the need to consider the possibility of establishing regional and subregional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights where they do not already exist".
That same year, during the 26th ASEAN Summit in Singapore, the ASEAN Foreign Minister’s meeting adopted a Joint Communiqué reaffirming the VDPA and agreeing that ASEAN should consider the establishment of a regional human rights mechanism.
It was not until 2007, fifteen years later, that ASEAN incorporated human rights into its institutional structure.
Article 14 of the ASEAN Charter states that:
1) In conformity with the purposes and the principles of the ASEAN Charter relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom, ASEAN shall establish an ASEAN human rights body.
2) This ASEAN human rights body shall operate in accordance with the terms of reference to be determined by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting.
In July 2008, a High Level Panel (HLP) was established to draft a Terms of Reference (TOR) that would specify the mandate and structure of an ASEAN human rights body. The ASEAN Foreign Ministers endorsed the Terms of Reference on 20 July 2009 during the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Thailand.
A year after AICHR’s Terms of Reference (TOR) were adopted, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers inaugurated the ten AICHR country representatives during the 15th ASEAN Summit in Cha-am Hua Hin, Thailand. The 23 October 2010 is now recognized as the AICHR's “birth date”.
AICHR’s TOR defines AICHR’s purpose, mandate and functions. AICHR’s primary purpose is to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN. AICHR is mandated to, among other things:
AICHR’s mandate does not contain explicit provision for receiving and investigating complaints of human rights violations. The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will review AICHR’s TOR in 2014. This review is a compromise between ASEAN Member States who felt that AICHR’s protection mandate was too weak, and those who felt AICHR’s role should be restricted to only the promotion of human rights.
In March 2012, human rights advocates attempted to submit six complaints of human rights abuses to AICHR. AICHR initially refused to accept the documents, arguing that it had neither the mandate nor any internal mechanism to receive complaints. AICHR subsequently relented and the documents were submitted.
Communications and complaints can now be submitted to AICHR via the ASEAN Secretariat. Submission can be via email, the online query form on AICHR’s website, or in person at the Secretariat in Jakarta. The Secretariat will take note of the complaint and pass it on to the AICHR Chair. The Chair is then responsible for circulating the complaint amongst the other AICHR Representatives and tabling it for consideration during an AICHR meeting. Discussions of complaints take place during closed meetings so it cannot be confirmed if and what cases have been discussed by AICHR. AICHR has not yet taken any public action to respond to a human rights situation or complaint.
AICHR is comprised of ten government representatives; one per ASEAN Member State. Selection processes of AICHR Representatives differ amongst the ten Member States but they must, at a minimum, take into account the individual’s integrity and competence in the field of human rights, and ensure gender equality within the Commission. Member States are not obliged to have a transparent or consultative selection process.
AICHR Representatives are not full-time and serve on a voluntary basis. Each AICHR Representative serves a term of three years and may be re-appointed for a second term. The government may decide at any time to replace its AICHR Representative without notice or explanation.
The Chair of the AICHR rotates yearly and is the Representative of the Member State holding the ASEAN chairmanship for that year.
AICHR must meet at least twice a year and can hold additional meetings if required. Decision making in the AICHR shall be based on consultation and consensus in accordance with Article 20 of the ASEAN Charter. This means that AICHR cannot act without the full agreement of all ten Representatives.
AICHR reports to the ASEAN Foreign Minister’s Meeting, submitting an annual report and other reports as required. These reports are not made public. AICHR falls within the ASEAN Political-Security Blueprint, unlike the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) which falls within the Socio-Cultural Blueprint.
AICHR is obliged, by its Terms of Reference, to keep the public periodically informed of its work and activities. So far, AICHR has done this by issuing press releases, publishing an information brochure, and creating a website.
AICHR is the overarching human rights institution in ASEAN with overall responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights in ASEAN. However, AICHR must work with other ASEAN bodies dealing with human rights and ensure that their work aligns with the AICHR’s work.
ASEAN Member States contribute in equal amounts to AICHR’s budget. AICHR activities are also funded by international donors such as the European Union.
AICHR is supported by a small unit of three staff within the Community and Corporate Affairs Department of the ASEAN Secretariat. This unit also supports the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Secretariat, the ASEAN Foundation and “Other ASEAN Associated Entities” (meaning those organizations accredited to ASEAN).