Environmental Rights in ASEAN

April 19, 2024

Environmental defenders in Southeast Asia are being attacked for their work in protecting ecosystems and upholding the rights of communities.

Amidst the worsening effects of the climate crisis on the region’s vulnerable countries, we need a regional framework for environmental rights that will strengthen protections for our defenders and for the rich natural environment of Southeast Asia.

Since 2022, there has been an ongoing process to draft a framework for environmental rights for ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. The current draft is up for stakeholder consultation and may be read here. APNED highly encourages Southeast Asian civil society to participate in the consultations, submit their comments and suggestions, and make sure the rights of environmental defenders will be represented.

Environmental Defenders in Southeast Asia

Environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) are defined by the United Nations (UN) as “individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment, including water, air, land, flora and fauna”. Environmental defenders worldwide remain highly vulnerable to attacks due to their work.

From 2012 to 2021, Global Witness has recorded 318 killings of land and environmental defenders in Southeast Asia which is 18% of the total number globally. The Philippines is consistently ranked first in Asia in terms of the number of killings in the past decade. There are also many reported other types of attacks on EHRDs including arbitrary arrests and detention, physical violence, enforced disappearances, and defamation among others.

However, out of the 48 countries in Asia, only Mongolia has a law specifically for the protection of human rights defenders. In the Philippines, policy proposals such as the Human Rights Defenders Bill and the Environmental Defense have been passed but have not yet been legislated. There is also no regional agreement or framework similar to this in Asia and the Pacific.

In other parts of the world, there are already legal instruments that seek to uphold environmental rights and the rights of EHRDs such as the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters or the Aarhus Convention in Europe, and the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean or the Escazu Agreement.

With regards to the ASEAN, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration of 2012 under Article 28 includes “the right to a safe, clean and sustainable environment.” Other documents that pave the way for further commitment to environmental protection are the ASEAN-UN Plan of Action 2021-2025 and the AICHR’s Five-Year Work Plan 2021-2025. In June 2021, AICHR convened a Workshop on Human Rights, Environment and Climate Change, during which a recommendation to explore the development of a regional framework on environmental rights was brought up. AICHR Thailand in June 2022 then led an Inception Workshop to discuss preparations and milestones for this would-be regional instrument.

Process

The ASEAN Environmental Rights Working Group (AER WG) was established in November 2022 with the Modalities of Operations adopted by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) on November 21, 2022. The Terms of Reference was also approved and included the following:

The purposes of the AER working group are:

  1.  To develop a regional framework on environmental rights which will be submitted to AICHR for further discussion. AICHR will consult ASEAN Sectoral Bodies relevant to environment, in particular the ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment (ASOEN) for consideration before eventual adoption by leaders of ASEAN.
  2. To collaborate and consult with other bodies within and outside the ASEAN, including civil societies organisations, relevant UN agencies and thematic experts in the region, as may be appropriate. Specifically, the AER Working Group will seek to:
  3. Facilitate the exchange of information on environmental rights in ASEAN for consideration in the draft framework;
    1. Identify issues and challenges from emerging areas of environmental rights that require particular consideration in the ASEAN context;
    2. Prepare recommendations for and content of the draft framework; based on the outputs from relevant meetings and workshops;
    3. Support the undertaking of capacity-building, awareness-raising, and outreach on environmental rights with partners;
    4. Provide strategic guidance to the development of the framework on environmental rights, in consideration of the need to ensure alignment of the framework with other regional ASEAN commitments and national circumstances;
    5. Work with key stakeholders, sectoral bodies and partners on the delivery of the above; and
    6. Support the development of guidelines for implementation of the adopted framework.

The AER working group is composed of individuals from senior experts on human rights and the environment, preferable with law backgrounds, lived experience and/or who have experience in negotiation and drafting of regional or international legal documents, among others.

The AER working group shall have at least four separate meetings between its inception until December 2024. The AER Working Group may seek written contributions from relevant stakeholders for inputs on drafts, if necessary.

Press releases of previous AER working group meetings:

Current Draft

Draft ASEAN declaration on environmental rights, for public consultation  (As of March 7, 2024, from 3rd WG Meeting)

Submissions

Submit comments and suggestions through the online submission form hosted on the web portal of the Asia-Pacific Environmental Rights Observatory. Consolidated written inputs from civil society-organized consultations are particularly encouraged. Deadline is April 30.

News and Updates

Civil Society Sign-on Statements

Civil Society Press Releases

Upcoming Civil Society Consultations

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Past Civil Society Consultations

  • April 25 | ASEAN Declaration on Environmental Rights Online Consultation
    • Organized by Asian Research Institute for Environmental Law (ARIEL), National University of Singapore Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law (APCEL), and Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL)
    • More details
  • April 5 | Stakeholder consultation process for the draft ASEAN declaration on environmental rights [Online]
    • Presented by Prof. Dr. Amara Pongsapich, Chair of AER WG and Representative of Thailand to the AICHR
  • March 26 | Consultation: ASEAN Environmental Rights Framework [Online]
    • Organized by Youth United for Earth, ASEAN Youth Forum, Asia-Pacific Climate Project, supported by ARIEL and APNED
  • March 22 | APNED Civil Society Consultation on the Consultation Document [Online]
    • Co-organized with ARIEL, ASEAN Youth Forum, and other APNED member environmental organizations
  • February 6 | APNED Consultation with Philippine Civil Society Groups

Resources

Relevant ASEAN Documents

Reference documents for framework

On the Situation of Environmental Rights in Southeast Asia