ASEAN Charter leaked – reference to human rights body vague

The closely guarded ASEAN Charter has apparently been leaked with the document being widely posted on the Internet. (See here)

The Charter which has been in the planning for the past two years is supposed to be a document for the benefit of the people in ASEAN. However, the process has been kept a secret and the people have had no say in the drafting of the document.

What is not a secret is that the Charter is established to give ASEAN a legal status on which trade deals can be based.

The “confidential” final draft contains a total of 13 chapters and 55 articles outlining various provisions ranging from organisation’s registration to dispute settlement to the various functions of its sub-groups.

Article 36 even specifies the Association’s motto: “One Vision, One Identity, One Community.” There will also be an ASEAN anthem.

If the leaked document is what ASEAN is going to sign during the summit in Singapore on 20 Nov 07, then there is little to cheer for human rights.

While the Preamble waxes lyrical about human rights – declaring that the group adheres to “the principles of democracy, rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” – there is precious little about how this is going to be carried out.

There are only two paragraphs contained in Article 14 of the Charter entitled “ASEAN Human Rights Body”. One of the paragraphs states that ASEAN “shall establish an ASEAN human rights body.” (See below)

No time line was given and no information of the nature of the body was provided except that it will operate “in accordance with the terms of reference” that will be determined by the ASEAN governments.

Not unexpectedly, ASEAN has deliberately kept the language vague and general to the point of it being quite devoid of meaning.

To be sure ASEAN consists of a few oppressive governments that will not allow a regional human rights body to interfere with their work.

It is therefore important for human rights defenders in the region and all over the world to continue to press ASEAN for concrete action instead of paying lip-service on the subject.

For a start, the Singapore Democrats call on ASEAN to:

i. Make a commitment to establish a human rights commission within the next two years,

ii. Ensure that the terms of reference for such a commission adheres to the principles of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

iii. Provide the commission the necessary powers to investigate complaints of human rights violations by ASEAN governments and to enforce the rules laid down by the commission.


Article 14

1. In conformity with the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, ASEAN shall establish an ASEAN human rights body.

2. This ASEAN human rights body shall operate in accordance with the terms of reference to be determined by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting.

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