The South East Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum (SEANF) is comprised of six (6) independent NHRIs in the South East Asia sub-region. They are: Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia (Komnas HAM) of Indonesia; Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Manusia (SUHAKAM) of Malaysia; Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC); Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP); National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT); and, Provedor de Direitos Humanos e Justica (PDHJ) of Timor Leste.
As the network of NHRIs in the sub-region, the SEANF plays a crucial role in the protection and promotion of human rights in South East Asia. Working under a cooperative framework, SEANF members undertake joint projects or activities to address issues of common concern like human trafficking, migrant workers, statelessness, business and human rights, corruption, among others. Recognizing the need to strengthen and expand the network, they continue to encourage governments of countries in South East Asia to establish an independent National Human Rights Institution. The SEANF engages with the Asia Pacific Forum (APF), International Coordinating Committee (ICC), Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), and other human rights organizations to further promote and protect human rights at the national, regional, and international level. It is seeking a regular mode of engagement with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), and related human rights bodies in Asia.
Among its priorities is to contribute to the development of the ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights to ensure that such declaration reaffirms the universality, indivisibility, interdependence, and interrelatedness of human rights.
In early 2004, the four Human Rights Commissions in South East Asia namely Komnas HAM, SUHAKAM, CHRP, and NHRCT decided to come together as a united force to help fast track the establishment of an ASEAN human rights mechanism that has been long in the making. They agreed to hold regular consultative meetings and to formalize this union by means of a signed agreement. Through this regular forum, they sought to foster collaboration among the four Commissions on measures to respond to human rights issues of common concern or with inter-border implications specifically on international terrorism; trafficking of persons (particularly women and children); migrant workers; economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development; and, human rights education. Their first formal meeting was held in Bangkok, Thailand on 21 October 2004 and the second in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 15-17 March 2006. During their third meeting in Bali, Indonesia on 25-28 June 2007, the four NHRIs signed a Declaration of Cooperation for the protection and promotion of human rights in South East Asia.
Under this Declaration, they agreed to carry out programs and activities particularly on the abovestated five (5) human rights issues of common concern. These inter-border issues and common concerns provided the framework of their cooperation, namely: (a) suppression of terrorism while respecting human rights; (b) human rights aspects of trafficking of persons; (c) protection of the human rights of migrants and migrant workers; (d) promotion of economic, social and cultural rights and right to development; and, (e) enhancement of human rights education. In addition, they agreed to advice their respective governments to take necessary steps to establish an appropriate ASEAN human rights mechanism and/or any organ in the ASEAN Charter.
During the 4th Annual Meeting in Manila, Philippines on 29-30 January 2008, the body agreed to adopt ASEAN NHRI FORUM (ANF) as the official name by which the four Human Rights Commissions under the Cooperation Agreement shall be collectively known. The name reflects two key methods of engagement of the body: consultation and cooperation. The body agreed the rotation of chairmanship using the alphabetical order of nations following the tradition of the ASEAN.
Hence, the 5th Annual Consultative Meeting of the ASEAN NHRI Forum in 21-23 January 2009 was held in Bangkok, Thailand and chaired by the NHRCT. At the close of the meeting in Bangkok, the chairmanship was passed on to Indonesia's Komnas HAM which chaired the forum up to the 6th Annual Meeting held in Jakarta, Indonesia on November 2009. Komnas HAM then passed on the chairmanship to Malaysia's SUHAKAM. At the 6th Annual Meeting of the NHRIs, the body agreed to change its name to SOUTH EAST ASIA NHRI FORUM (SEANF) to give emphasis to the geographical sub-region. On the 7th Annual Meeting hosted by SUHAKAM, the group welcomed the Provedor for Human Rights and Justice of Timor Leste as the fifth member of SEANF and the chairmanship was then passed to CHRP until the 8th Annual Meeting. The 8th Annual Meeting held in Quezon City, Philippines on 18-19 October 2011 paved the way for the welcoming of the newly established human rights commission in Myanmar. Thus, during the 9th Annual Meeting hosted by NHRCT on 12-14 September 2012, the Myanmar Human Rights Commission became the sixth member of SEANF and the chairmanship was then passed to PDHJ.
Among all the regions of the world, it is only Asia that does not have a regional human rights system. The lack of such mechanism is not only detrimental to the Asian people, but likewise affects the rest of the international community. It is for the benefit of all that every region has a functioning human rights system so that all can invoke international standards.
Considering the vastness and cultural diversity of the region, a sub-regional arrangement such as among the South East Asian countries, has been initiated by non-governmental organizations more than a decade ago. The Regional Working Group (RWG) for the Establishment of an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism has been engaging governments through the ASEAN to establish an intergovernmental human rights system and since then, there have been significant developments, starting from the Joint Communiqué of the ASEAN ministerial meeting of 1993, ASEAN vision to 2020, the Hanoi Plan of Action in 1998, the human rights provision of the Vientiane Action Programme, the adoption of the ASEAN security community plan of action, the ASEAN social and cultural plan of Action, as well as the adoption of the ASEAN declaration against trafficking in person, particularly women and children and the declaration on the elimination of violence against women in the ASEAN region. The current efforts to draft the ASEAN Charter open a window of opportunity for the inclusion of human rights in the charter agenda, which in the long run could lead to such human rights mechanism.
Yet, there is a need for more active engagement with actors in ASEAN to push for such a mechanism. Existing National Human Rights Commissions in the South East Asia, (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand) play an important role in leveraging support among ASEAN governments to put the human rights provisions in the various declarations into concrete action.
Thus, the four (4) national human rights commissions agreed that they should have a regular forum to discuss practical and the most feasible actions to facilitate the process of establishing an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. This regular forum seeks to foster collaboration among the four Human Rights Commissions on measures to respond to human rights issues of common concern or with inter-border implications; international terrorism; trafficking in persons (particularly women and children); migrant workers; economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development; and human rights education.
During the 4th Consultative Meeting of the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand in January 2008 in Manila, Philippines, they agreed to adopt "ASEAN NHRI Forum" as the official name by which they shall be collectively known.