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Policy Roundtable on Civilian Protection

Date: 9 February 2010
Venue:
Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre Hotel
Organised by: RSIS Centre for NTS Studies

Executive Summary

Recent developments in Southeast Asia highlight the need for consistent and robust civilian protection mechanisms. In 2009, the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) opened up a new avenue for dialogue on civilian protection. Against this backdrop and in the wake of the Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines, the Policy Roundtable Discussion on Civilian Protection: Issues and Challenges organised by the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, was convened on 9 February 2010. Participants came from different backgrounds, including the fields of law, academia and civil society. They aimed to understand the broad and multifaceted concept of civilian protection in the Southeast Asian context, emphasising its evolution over time and examining both existing and proposed mechanisms for its effective implementation.

During the policy roundtable discussion, four significant themes emerged. These included (1) human rights challenges, (2) the effectiveness and accessibility of human rights mechanisms, (3) understandings of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), and (4) the way forward.

  • Human rights challenges

There are positive examples of Southeast Asia committing itself to RtoP, through human rights treaty bodies, as well as International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other examples of binding international law. For example, most ASEAN countries have acceded to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.  However, some challenges continue to exist in the region. Three of the recommendations for addressing human rights-related challenges in the region included: (1) enhancing compliance with international law, (2) enhancing compliance by non-state armed groups with their obligations under international law, and (3) effective implementation of civilian protection and human rights policies.

  • Effectiveness and accessibility of human rights mechanisms

There are 40 different mechanisms an individual or organisation in Southeast Asia can use to file a human rights-related complaint. Some of these mechanisms include: state courts and ombudspersons, national human rights commissions, human rights committees on thematic issues, public hearings and civil society organisations. However, in the Southeast Asian context, the credibility, particularly of national human rights commissions, their differing structures and levels of effectiveness, come into question. That said, these are several avenues through which to address civilian protection; and while focusing on one mechanism may offer limited results, working with strategically important mechanisms together can provide a more effective means to further promote the protection of civilians.

  • Understandings of the Responsibility to Protect

Some participants felt that the RtoP agenda has too narrow a definition and needs to be expanded for the Southeast Asian region to include natural disasters for example. Others expressed fear that RtoP is an excuse for powerful nations to intervene in the internal affairs of developing countries. It was agreed that RtoP has been misunderstood in the region and needs to be recognised as an effective prevention mechanism. To operationalise civilian protection in the region, there is a need to further develop early warning systems and the capacity of institutions to protect populations from mass atrocities.

  • The way forward

The roundtable identified that AICHR is well placed to approach issues of civilian protection. It can engage in civilian protection in a thematic way across the region rather than focus on specific cases. Three civilian protection priority areas for AICHR emerged: (1) migration-related issues in Southeast Asia; (2) business and human rights; and (3) women’s and children’s issues. Even though AICHR has no formal mechanism to receive and process complaints, Articles 4.8 and 4.9 of its terms of reference give the body some flexibility to do so. Article 4.8 states that AICHR can hold consultations with organisations, such as civil society and victims organisations. Article 4.9 states that AICHR should work together with human rights institutions to lay the groundwork for fruitful partnerships in the region. This flexibility allows for AICHR to respond to issues of concern raised through its consultations and partnerships.

Click here to read the policy roundtable report.


Posted on: 9/2/2010 8:30:00 AM  |  Topic: Internal and Cross-Border Conflict


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