JAKARTA, Indonesia — Activists on Monday urged a newly formed human rights commission for Southeast Asia to investigate rights abuse cases throughout the region as the group began its inaugural meetings.
The regional rights commission gathered Sunday for the first time since it was formed last fall by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The rights body has been criticized as powerless because it cannot punish member nations and focuses on promotion, rather than protection, of human rights.
However, activist groups from Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia said they plan to present the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights with reports of atrocities throughout the region as a way to document the abuses.
"We understand that this commission is a new one. That is why we need to push it to acknowledge that human rights violations are rampant in Southeast Asian nations," said Purnomo Satriyo, an activist with the Solidarity for Asian People's Advocacy, a coalition of civil society groups in Indonesia.
Satriyo said several groups would present cases about the anti-communist purges by the military regime of Gen. Suharto in Indonesia in the mid-60s that reportedly killed between 500,000 to 2 million people. Not a single official has been brought to trial for the worst massacres in Indonesia in the 20th century, Satriyo said.
The wife of a Filipino journalist who was among 57 people killed in an election-related massacre last November in the Philippines also vowed to bring the case to the commission's attention.
"I appeal to the commission to help our families to seek justice," said Noemi Parcon. "The killing of 32 journalists is the worst that's ever happened for journalists and the Philippines government is not responsive to our petition."
Satriyo said the newly formed body should come up with clear procedures so groups know how to petition and report human rights violations. The commission is holding meetings until Thursday, but they are closed to the public.
Activists said later in the day they were disappointed that commissioners refused to meet in person with them, saying in a statement it marked the "beginning of a worrying sign of the rejection of civil society participation."
Rafendi Djamin, the Indonesian representative on the commission, confirmed Monday that the commission had received the documents on rights violations. He would not comment further.
The body was originally created with the purpose of raising the region's awareness of human rights, conducting studies and providing training for law enforcement officers as well as creating a standard forum for human rights in the region. (AP)