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The ASEAN Human Rights System: A Critical Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 June 2016

Hien BUI*
National University of Singapore,
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This article offers a critical analysis of the human rights system established by ASEAN. It first investigates concrete evidence of the system’s ineffectiveness by comparing the cases of Myanmar and Thailand, which illustrate ASEAN’s failure to address human rights violations both before and after the creation of the ASEAN system. It then examines the substantive and procedural limitations of the ASEAN human rights instruments and mechanisms. Specifically, while restrictions on rights and freedoms contained in the instruments undermine the universality of human rights, ASEAN’s mechanisms lack independence and offer only weak protection mandates to address rights violations. In addition, the absence of a judicial body to hear complaints and issue binding remedies makes the system incomplete. The article recommends the creation of an ASEAN court of human rights and suggests changes to the existing instruments and mechanisms that might accommodate the new court.

© National University of Singapore, 2016 

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LLM (University of London); LLB (Vietnam National University); Bar Training (Vietnam Judicial Academy); Research Associate, Centre for Asian Legal Studies, National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law; With special thanks to Prof Andrew Harding, Dr Paul Gragl, Dr Tan Hsien-Li, and Dr Son Bui for their inspirational guidance; and Marie De Martino for her unconditional love and support.


1. ASEAN is the association of ten Southeast Asian countries, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. See ASEAN Secretariat, “ASEAN Member States”, online: ASEAN <>.

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10. Ibid, art 6.

11. Ibid, arts 27 and 30.

12. Ibid, art 8.

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20. These instruments are the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion on the Rights of Migrant Workers, done at Cebu, Philippines, 13 January 2007, and a number of instruments on Women and Children, such as the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Children in ASEAN, adopted in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, 9 October 2013, the ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, done in Jakarta, Indonesia, 13 June 2004, and the ASEAN Declaration on the Advancement of Women, done in Bangkok, Thailand, 5 July 1988.

21. The ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and the Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (2010); and the ASEAN Committee to Implement the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (2007).

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95. Ng, supra note 61.

96. Ibid at 1.

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138. Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (adopted 28 November 2013), art 25.

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140. Donnelly, “A Defense”, supra note 103 at 77.

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149. OHCHR, “Principles for Regional Human Rights Mechanisms (Non-Paper)”, online: OHCHR <> [OHCHR, “Principles”]

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151. Ibid.

152. Terms of Reference of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights (July 2009), art 3 [TOR].

153. Ibid, art 5(9)

154. Ibid, art 9

155. Ibid, art 5(2). See also ibid, arts 5(5)-(6).

156. Tan, supra note 61.

157. Phan, A Selective Approach, supra note 13 at 107.

158. Ibid.

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162. Tan, supra note 61 at 157.

163. TOR, supra note 152, art 4(10).

164. Ibid, art 4(9).

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175. Phan, A Selective Approach, supra note 13 at 106.

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181. Ginber, supra note 61 at 517.

182. Ibid.

183. Ibid.

184. TOR, supra note 161, art 4(1).

185. Ibid, art 4(4).

186. Ginber, supra note 61 at 515.

187. Muntarbhorn, “A Roadmap”, supra note 61.

188. AICHR, Annual Report of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights: The Annual Report of the AICHR for the Period of July 2014 to July 2015 (1 July 2015) at 4, online: AICHR – Thailand <>.

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214. Ibid at 132.

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216. Ibid at 226.

217. Phan, A Selective Approach, supra note 13 at 162.

218. De Schutter, supra note 142 at 903–904.

219. Phan, A Selective Approach, supra note 13 at 226.

220. Organization of African Unity (OAU), Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 10 June 1998 (entered into force 25 January 2004), art 29(2).

221. Phan, supra note 13 at 226.

222. Steiner, Alston, and Goodman, supra note 71 at 1063.

223. Phan, A Selective Approach, supra note 13 at 132.

224. Ibid at 227.

225. Ibid.

226. Yuval SHANY (with Henry LOVAT), “The European Court of Human Rights” in SHANY, Yuval, Assessing the Effectiveness of International Courts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) at 268269 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

227. Ibid.

228. Phan, A Selective Approach, supra note 13 at 225.

229. Ibid at 132.

230. Ibid.

231. Ibid at 201.

232. Phan, A Selective Approach, supra note 13 at 45–64.

233. Ibid at 163; African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, “African Court in Brief”, online: African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights <>.

234. MILLER, Vaughne, “The European Convention on Human Rights and the Court of Human Rights: Issues and Reforms” (2011) House of Common Standard Note No SN/IA/5936 at 3, online: UK Parliament <>>Google Scholar.

235. Phan, A Selective Approach, supra note 13 at 185-229.

236. Ibid at 227.

237. Ibid at 201.

238. Ibid at 188.

239. Tan, supra note 61 at 187.

240. Amao, supra note 159 at 242.

241. Phan, A Selective Approach, supra note 13 at 200–201.

242. WAHYUNINGRUM, Yuyun, “ASEAN’s Road Map Towards Creating a Human Rights Regime in Southeast Asia” in Jennifer MOURIN, ed, Human Rights Milestones: Challenges and Developments (Bangkok: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, 2009), 69 at 70 Google Scholar.

243. ASEAN Vision 2020, supra note 4 at para 6.