Asean agree to regional rights body in principle

Anucha Charoenpo
Bangkok Post
03 Mar 07

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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