In 2007, to the surprise of many, leaders of ASEAN states (including Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam), agreed to establish a ‘regional human rights mechanism.’ Commentators from inside and outside the ASEAN region have made overwhelmingly negative assessments of the ability of this new body to further the implementation of human rights. This paper explores the various theoretical approaches which have been taken to studying developments in the region. I argue that the key concerns of international human rights law - legitimacy and compliance – have been neglected in these approaches, and I suggest that greater attention should be paid to social theory and empirical research that goes to the question of key actor’s beliefs about the authority and power of the institution. In my conclusion, I suggest that the origins, design, structure, and functions of an institution do not necessarily determine and delimit its potential to effect change or advance the cause of social justice. Legitimacy can also occur accretionally, as institutions engage in processes of rule-making that are seen to be fair, transparent and inclusive. The interpretation of certain key provisions in the Terms of Reference for ASEAN’s new human rights institution will be critical to expanding or constraining the strength, power and legitimacy of ASEAN’s new regional human rights body, with significant consequences for protection of the human rights of citizens of the region.
Human Rights Law
Date of this Version
Catherine Renshaw, "Understanding the new ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights: the Limits and Potential of Theory" (November 2010). University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series 2010. Working Paper 53.