Jakarta, 23 November 2015—The Raffles Institution kindly invited the Human Rights Resource Centre (HRRC) to meet with students participating in its Global Studies Program during their visit to Jakarta. The Program is an inter-disciplinary one for selected year 5 students (17-18 years old), which encompasses social sciences, area studies and other disciplines which contribute to the study of globalisation. The meeting with the students was aimed at discussing HRRC’s work as well as challenges in advancing the human rights agenda in ASEAN and cooperating with government and non-government agencies in the region.
HRRC firstly gave a brief presentation on the organisation’s history, its aspiration to support ASEAN human rights bodies, and the research work it has completed in its three focus areas: rule of law, business and human rights, and vulnerable groups. The discussion that followed HRRC’s preliminary presentation was lively. The students were particularly interested in understanding what is human rights, including the universality versus particularity perspective.
Ms. Aviva Nababan, HRRC’s Rule of Law Project Coordinator, recalled that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was drafted after World War II by representatives of UN member states, all with the objective to enshrine rights that should be protected, promoted and respected by member states to create a peaceful, just world order. This, together with the assumption that the UDHR elaborates on the concept of human rights as referred to in provisions of the UN Charter obliging the United Nations to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights,” seems to argue for universality as all UN member states are bound by the Charter. While Ms. Nababan acknowledged that not all ASEAN member states are parties to the existing core UN human rights treaties, she referred to the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights, which reaffirmed the commitment of the region to the UDHR.
The forum also discussed the interaction between non-governmental and governmental agencies, including at regional level, in upholding human rights. The discussion highlighted the need for civil society to inform governmental agencies with important data to be considered in decision making, although this needs to be done while being cognizant of the fact that sometimes change will need time and process. This is also the case with engendering change in ASEAN, where consensus is the key ingredient in all decision making process.
The students also inquired about incidences of intolerance in the region. Ms. Nababan emphasized the need for governments not to be dictated by the few who engage in violence while claiming to act in the name of the majority. Governments, she insisted, should protect the rights of humans, not the “rights” of a certain ideology or belief nor allow arbitrary violence against minorities. She also opined that violent, intolerant groups often can act by claiming that they represent the majority simply because the majority do not correct their claim. She encouraged silent majorities to raise their voices to stop intolerant groups from gaining credibility from their silence.