The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) lays out universal principles of human rights that are the entitlement of all persons everywhere, establishing a minimum baseline for the protection of human rights. Regional declarations are a useful way to reinforce the human rights commitments and obligations of states as articulated in the UDHR and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). For this reason, in principle, we support ASEAN's efforts to develop a regional human rights declaration.
While part of the ASEAN Declaration adopted November 18 tracks the UDHR, we are deeply concerned that many of the ASEAN Declaration’s principles and articles could weaken and erode universal human rights and fundamental freedoms as contained in the UDHR. Concerning aspects include: the use of the concept of "cultural relativism" to suggest that rights in the UDHR do not apply everywhere; stipulating that domestic laws can trump universal human rights; incomplete descriptions of rights that are memorialized elsewhere; introducing novel limits to rights; and language that could be read to suggest that individual rights are subject to group veto.
The Declaration and the ASEAN statement of adoption call for the Declaration to be implemented consistent with the Universal Declaration on Human rights and international human rights agreements. Therefore, ASEAN has an opportunity to take steps to revise the Declaration through a transparent process that includes civil society and that brings the document in line with the standards embodied in the UDHR and ICCPR. The United States remains a committed partner with ASEAN on the protection of human rights.