KUALA LUMPUR: There is not enough talk about the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights in the region, said Malaysia's representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).
"Malaysians don't see ASEAN as something close to our hearts, as opposed to countries like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar," said Edmund Bon Tai Soon.
"If you go down to the ground there, the people always speak about ASEAN and what ASEAN can do for them. I don't know why in Malaysia and perhaps also in Singapore, we don't feel that closeness with ASEAN.
"That has to improve since we've adopted the ASEAN region 2025 charter to become the ASEAN Economic Community," he said in an exclusive interview with Sunday Star.
Asked which human right Malaysia was worst off in and needed to work harder at, he replied: "That would be civil and political rights. But this is across the board in ASEAN. If you look at Thailand, you can't even speak about the Ruler."
He said a new feature of AICHR was to provide institutionalised facetime with NGOs and CSOs (civil society organisations) with accredited status from AICHR.
"We never imagined this six years ago. We have accredited 11 CSOs across the region," he said, adding that among the latest to be granted consultative relationship status was Pusat Komas from Malaysia.
At the last AICHR meeting, he said Malaysia had proposed two regional consultations for 2017.
"Malaysia has chosen right to water, with particular focus on the rural and indigenous communities.
"My personal goal, depending on what other participants want, is to have a general comment of AICHR to be adopted and disseminated as a document interpreting what the right to water and clean sanitation means.
"That will start the ball rolling towards other standards-setting," he said.
Besides the previous Malaysian representative's projects for 2016, Regional Forum on Media and Human Rights - concluded in May - and the Youth Debate in September, Bon hopes to insert a third one - a symposium on sharing good practices among ASEAN judges.
"We are trying to push for approval for this project at the Chiang Mai meeting in July. Thailand, Laos and Philippines have expressed keen interest," he added.