ASEAN urged to protect environmental rights within a strong human rights framework

Press release - November 16, 2012
“Integration should not come at the price of environmental ruin and human rights,” ASEAN youths stated today at the eve of the opening of the 21st Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The youth are urging their leaders to protect the rights of the people and the environment as the region pursues a single economic community in an era of runaway climate change.

Following a local religious tradition, activists from the Khmer Youth Association, the People Center for Development and Peace and Greenpeace chanted prayers at the Independence Monument (Vimean Ekareach) in the capital. The activists also carried banners that said “Environmental Rights = Human Rights.”
“Southeast Asia is now among the fastest growing regions in the world. But its development should not come at the price of human rights. We want our leaders to remember that environmental rights—the right to clean water, air and a healthy environment—are human rights too,” said Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace (PCDP).

“At present, Cambodia is losing most of its forests from mining and logging industries. Deforestation in Southeast Asia is also fastest among forest regions of the world. While these activities are localized, their impacts are beyond national boundaries.  Because of this, we recommend that ASEAN use climate-friendly standards and trans-boundary impact assessment in economic community building,” he added.

“The same standards should apply in meeting the increasing energy demand in Cambodia and Southeast Asia. What will save our climate and what will save Southeast Asia? One of the answers is to end the era of carbon intensive dirty coal. As youths, we pray that the leaders of our region will ensure our bright future with solar, wind and other clean and renewable sources of energy,” said Chamroeun Mak, President of the Khmer Youth Association (KYA).

The ASEAN is set to review its implementation of the plan to integrate the ten member countries into a single giant market. Set to be achieved in 2015, the plan involves building bridges, roads, power plants, and internet facilities to connect the ten countries; observe a single visa within the region; foster more cultural and educational exchange; and intensify intra-regional business and activities.

The ten ASEAN leaders are also expected to sign and ratify the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights, the  framework of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).  Early drafts of the declaration have been met with strong criticism from civil society groups, as it falls short of the requirements of the United Nations. But its deficiencies should not be used as an excuse not to act upon petitions that seek to uphold the environmental rights of ASEAN citizens in the process of economic community building. KYA, PDCP and Greenpeace are asking ASEAN heads to direct the AICHR to set the standards of environmental rights in accordance to the UN’s ‘protect, respect, and remedy’ framework.(1)

Some studies show that without safeguards, ASEAN’s economic community building would degrade the environment, contribute to the causes, and risks from the impacts, of the climate crisis. With current trends it is predicted that by 2030 ASEAN’s share of global energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions will reach 5%, up from the current 3.5%, according to the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan.

“With the attendance of newly elected US President Barrack Obama at the Summit, ASEAN leaders must use this opportunity to call on the US to join the EU in raising ambition for climate action and deliver adequate and predictable climate finance for vulnerable countries such as most ASEAN states,” said Zelda Soriano, Political Advisor of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “Unless urgently addressed, climate change will inflict further suffering on the region’s poor and hinder the ASEAN’s grand plans to become an integrated economic community.”

For more information:

Chamroeun Mak, President, Khmer Youth Association (KYA)

+855 (17) 788 955, + 855 (15) 555 058

Yong Kim Eng, President, People Center for Development and Peace (PDCP)

+855 23 883 304, +855 16 82 82 11

Atty Zelda Soriano, Political Advisor, Greenpeace Southeast Asia,

+63 917 594 9424

Note to editors:

(1) In particular, KYA, PDCP and Greenpeace are asking that:

  • Under the ‘State Duty to Protect,’ ASEAN governments should promote common policies, laws and rules for business in relation to human rights.
  • By the ‘Corporate Responsibility to Respect’ principles, ASEAN must provide common blueprints for companies on how to know and show that they are respecting human rights.
  • The ‘Access to Remedy’ principles focus on ensuring that where people are harmed by business activities, there should be both adequate accountability and effective redress, judicial and non-judicial, in ASEAN countries.