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Enhancing regional cooperation for human rights and the environment

Graphic: Participants at the AICHR Regional Consultation

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The APF, in collaboration with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), and the European Union (EU), held a Regional Consultation on Business and Human Rights, Environment and Climate Change in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 29-30 May 2023, including a side event to discuss strengthening engagement between NHRIs and ASEAN on human rights and the environment. 

The aim of the Regional Consultation was to assist ASEAN in enhancing its policies and regional cooperation on environmental and climate change issues, and to build a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable recovery for the protection of human rights and the environment. 

Participants included representatives of AICHR, the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN sectoral bodies, the EU, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the United Nations, as well as legal experts and policy researchers from the private sector and academia. 

In her welcoming remarks, H.E. Professor Dato’ Dr Aishah Bidin, Representative of Malaysia to AICHR, said: “The issue of climate change is a major concern to ASEAN, as Southeast Asia is one of the most at-risk regions in the world to the impacts on climate change. ASEAN member states have proactively taken measures to address the issue at national, regional and global level”. 

Graphic: Participants at the AICHR Regional Consultation

The APF has been providing support to NHRIs in Southeast Asia and the Pacific to foster collaboration with regional inter-governmental mechanisms on human rights and the environment through the EU-funded Inter-governmental Mechanisms (IGM) Project.

In the side event, facilitated by APF Lead Engagement Consultant Karen Gomez-Dumpit, the NHRIs of Thailand and the Philippines presented their efforts in prioritising climate change and the right to a healthy environment and shared their experiences in implementing the IGM Project Small Grants Program. 

These NHRIs have been discussing the Escazú Agreement and Aarhus Convention, landmark treaties related to human rights and the environment, and how similar treaties could be relevant to the Southeast Asian context. They have also undertaken initiatives to engage individuals and communities in collecting their perspectives on a regional declaration on environmental rights that have been shared with AICHR representatives.

Following the discussion on the draft policy guidelines on NHRI engagement with ASEAN, the AICHR representatives and CSOs reflected on how AICHR can formally collaborate with NHRIs. The AICHR representatives acknowledged the complementary role of NHRIs and identified opportunities for engagement. CSO representatives also highlighted the importance of making the NHRIs space in ASEAN more formal through a procedural approach. 

During the session, Richard P. Palpal-latoc, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, said that NHRIs can play a bridging role in exchanging information between stakeholders. 

“NHRIs are in the best position to mainstream human rights in the context of the right to a healthy environment, and can provide a platform for engagement, collaboration and partnerships to increase understanding on the nexus between human rights and the environment,” he said. 

Sayamol Kaiyoorawong, Commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, said that the Commission has been advocating for the Thai Government to amend the Constitution to acknowledge the importance of environmental protection. She also said that the NHRCT supports action on transboundary environmental issues, in response to issues raised by AICHR Thailand and ASEAN countries. 

The Regional Consultation also focused on the ASEAN-EU Strategic Partnership's Plan of Action (2023-2027), which aims to promote cooperation on human rights and good governance. It seeks to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in line with relevant international and regional human rights instruments ratified by ASEAN and EU Member States. 

Also discussed was the EU's proposed Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence (CSDDD), which aims to foster responsible and accountable business practices within the EU and beyond.

NHRIs play an important role at the national, regional and international levels, in promoting a human rights-based approach in climate change. The APF looks forward to continuing to strengthen collaboration between NHRIs, AICHR, and regional stakeholders on these issues.

Date: 22 June 2023

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The APF Inter-governmental Mechanism Project is funded by the European Union.

Image credits

  1. Participants at the AICHR Regional Consultation - E-READI
  2. Participants at the AICHR Regional Consultation - E-READI
  3. EU logo - European Union