Asian Regional Human Rights Body

March 14, 2007

the class discussion last night on ASEAN and Burma reminded me of the following article in the Bangkok Post (March 3, 2007). it seems clear that while there is no clear concept of what a regional human rights body should look like, there is agreement on the need for such a body. the need stems largely from ‘international pressure’, however, there has been considerable domestic/regional pressure as well. it is too early to make any judgments, but this doesn’t have to stop our speculations..

Regional rights body agreed to in principle

ANUCHA CHAROENPO

Siem Reap, Cambodia–The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has agreed in principle to establish a regional human rights organisation. The plan was discussed at the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Retreat held in Siem Reap over past two days. The 10 member states have been urged by the international community to improve human rights in the region.

Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram said the organisation would be set up under the first Asean charter now being drafted by a high-level task force.

Mr Nitya said all foreign ministers expressed concerns over the regional human rights situation.

The plan for the organisation conformed with the United Nations’ universal declaration on human rights enacted in 1948.

”We addressed the human rights problem because we want international recognition. If we had not addressed it, our region would not be accepted,” he said.

Some Asean ministers were concerned that the grouping would continue to be criticised if it could not protect its people from human rights violations even after the organisation was set up.

”However, they agreed that it was better than not trying to set it up at all,” he said.

The organisation’s structure had not been discussed since members wanted to see the first Asean charter draft first.

Deputy permanent-secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry Sihasak Phuangketkeow, who represents Thailand on the task force, said the organisation was entrusted with promoting human rights for Asean people.

”I think it would be difficult to encourage the organisation to monitor human rights violations in all Asean countries because there are many differences between the countries,”he said.

The retreat also discussed member suspension in case any Asean country violated the charter.

He said the charter should adhere to the principle of non-interference.

As the grouping’s constitution, the charter should also provide for penalties, he said.

Expected to be completed in time for the summit in Singapore in November, Asean hopes the charter will help strengthen cooperation among members.

The issue was first mooted early this year, at the Asean Summit in the Philippines’ Cebu. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont advocated a people-centred Asean where people played a greater part in decision-making in matters of security, politics, democracy and good governance.

Mr Nitya said Asean had agreed to mark the 30th anniversary of relations with the European Union and the United States later this year.

Nitya said all Asean foreign ministers expressed concern about the political situation in Thailand. But there was no bilateral meeting between Thai and Singapore foreign ministers to discuss soured relations as speculated.

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3 Responses to “Asian Regional Human Rights Body”

  1. Ernest Says:

    ASEAN countries CAN protect their own people from violation of human rights if they have the will and courage to uphold the rule of laws, to respect basic human rights, to be more accountable to their people and to seek to eradicate corruption.

    In a lot of reported cases, it is the governments/officials of these countries who have abused their people. For example, the Cambodian government is accused of jailing human rights activists on politically motivated charges; the Malaysian government has allegedly detained criminal suspects indefinitely without charge or trial and subjected them to beatings and ill treatment while in detention; the Indonesian government is also accused of using criminal law to punish individuals who peacefully advocate for independence in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Irian Jaya.

    I cannot really follow the logic of setting up a regional human rights body so that ASEAN countries can “address the human rights problem” to gain “international recognition”, as suggested by the Thai Foreign Minister. They do not need such an organization. It sounds funny and pathetic.

    Perhaps the proposed organization is needed just to diffuse the “international pressure” mentioned in Meryam’s post.

    Ernest

  2. meryam Says:

    ernest, i do not follow your logic.. as you stated, many asean governments (and state officials) systemically abuse the rights of their citizens. while you mentioned examples of politically motivated violations, there are many more daily violations that have nothing to do with politics: police officers in the philippines and indonesia routinely torture suspects, many of whom are innocent; the judiciary in thailand is not independent so there can be no fair trial for victims of abuse; cambodia has no system of effective policing or prosecution, so victims have no place to seek redress.

    many of these governments are signatories to international treaties under which they have obligations to protect and uphold the rights of their citizens (some countries are even require to do this constitutionally). the purpose of a human rights body would be to hold the governments responsible to these obligations. what is funny or pathetic about this?

  3. Ernest Says:

    I am afraid I don’t get it. These ASEAN governments abuse the rights of their own citizens, and then the very same governments plan to set up a body to (sort of) oversee themselves to ensure compliance with human rights standards?

    I believe if these ASEAN governments are really committed to protecting their own people, they can do it on their own, without setting up the human rights body.

    As for human rights breaches not related to politics, such as those police officers (who torture) and judiciary systems (that are not independent), I believe the national governments should be able to rectify their own problems if they mean real business.

    As suggested, many of these governments are already signatories to international treaties under which they have obligations to protect and uphold the rights of their citizens. Yet, they have violated these obligations. I doubt if a human rights body, set up by these governments themselves, will be effective in ensuring that they comply.


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