Dear Dr. Seree Nonthasoot,
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and Indonesian Drug Users Network (Persaudaraan Korban NAPZA Indonesia / PKNI) applaud the initiative of the Thailand Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to conduct a regional consultation on the thematic study on legal aid. We welcome the discussion during the event in Bangkok, 11-12 October 2017, as an attempt to further propel the research that will set a framework for addressing legal aid issues in the region and to navigating ASEAN Member States (AMS) in implementing the human rights goals in the ASEAN region. The human rights goals in the ASEAN region should enable the creation of an inclusive community that promotes: a high quality of life; equitable access to opportunities for all; and promotes and protects human rights all, in particular vulnerable groups, including women and children.
While we acknowledge this initiative as a reference for AMS to comply with current international standard enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Guiding Principle in Legal Aid, we would like to provide recommendations to advance the usefulness and relevance of the study especially in the realm of implementation and monitoring.
Apart from the comprehensiveness of the initial study, which elaborates on the status of legal aid provisions in the AMS, not enough attention was given to some specific areas of improvement. The study excludes the mapping of legal aid service providers in the AMS, among other: information about types of available legal aid services; agencies providing legal aid; the role of stakeholders; and coordination mechanisms. Providing this information is of significance to make the distribution of power, authority, and roles transparent.
The study also does not include information on the protection, security, and safety of legal aid providers in the region. As we see a trend of escalating human rights situations and shrinking civic space in the ASEAN region, threats and challenges against legal aid services providers are increasing, particularly against those who work to support vulnerable and marginalised groups. Having a framework that gives assurance for the safety, security, and wellbeing of the providers of legal aid will significantly improve their performance in conducting their work on the ground.
Lastly, the study does not address the role of ASEAN itself to promote legal assistance and to help monitor AMS in the implementation of its legal aid laws or provisions. There should be a section to elaborate on the role of ASEAN beyond its current modalities to hold AMS accountable to their commitments in upholding human rights in their countries.
Reflecting on the assessment, we would like to ask the AICHR to heed our concerns and advice, and address them in the outcome document on legal aid frameworks in the region.
As civil society organisations with consultative relationship with AICHR, FORUM- ASIA and PKNI offer its insights and collaboration to strengthen and deepen the analysis in the current study on legal aid.
We hope this manifests our commitment to work in partnership with the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism to support the different Sectoral Bodies to provide a meaningful and effective mandate to protect and promote human rights in the region. As enshrined in the theme of ASEAN 50, ‘partnering for change, engaging the world, it is our hope to partner with ASEAN to achieve equitable human rights and access to justice that will promote a people-oriented, people-centred ASEAN.
Yours Sincerely, Rachel Arinii Judisthari
East Asia – ASEAN Program Manager FORUM-ASIA
National Coordinator Indonesian Drug User Network (PKNI)
Rachel Arinii Judhistari
East Asia and ASEAN Programme Manager