ASEAN Environmental Rights Declaration Needs Transparency

Human Rights

An Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) working group should show it is genuinely interested in engaging with civil society if it wants to produce an effective environmental rights declaration, as it resumes drafting today in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The working group released its first – and so far only – version of the draft declaration in March 2024 and solicited public comments. Human Rights Watch made a submission in April raising concerns over the text’s lack of protections for Indigenous peoples and failure to include provisions on corporate accountability and climate-related mobility – when the effects of climate change compel people to move.

Other environmental and human rights groups in the region also made submissions to improve the draft. For example, in April, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, which has 46 members across Asia, called attention to the absence of Indigenous representation in the drafting process. It also expressed concern that the draft was already complete when the working group consulted stakeholders, a process that goes against the right to information that the declaration aims to enshrine.

The working group met again in May in Jakarta, Indonesia, where it began considering the public submissions, but it has not released an updated version of the declaration since then. It has not published the submissions sent by civil society groups, despite a pledge to make these available via the Asia-Pacific Environmental Rights Observatory.

News of proposed guidelines in the Philippines that would make it easier for companies to conduct activities on Indigenous peoples’ land without their free, prior, and informed consent illustrate the need for stronger environmental rights protections. Human Rights Watch research in IndonesiaMalaysia, and elsewhere show Indigenous peoples are often dispossessed of land they have protected for generations.

After convening this week, the working group should publish the most recent version of the declaration and facilitate opportunities to hear from communities affected by environmental destruction. It should not submit the declaration for adoption until stakeholders have a real opportunity to consider whether it reflects the concerns of those at the front lines of environmental protection in the ASEAN region.

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