Asean to retain non-interference policy, Charter says

En-Lai Yeoh
10 Nov 07

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has rejected proposals to adopt rules and punishments for members that break them, according to a draft of a charter the group is expected to adopt this month.

The draft, obtained by Bloomberg News, calls for an extension of Asean’s four-decade-old policies of decision by consensus and non-interference in individual country’s affairs. It doesn’t include proposals by a 10-person group of Southeast Asian statesmen that members who flout Asean rules, either on trade issues or human rights, could be censured, suspended or expelled from the group.

Asean has been criticized by rights groups and Western governments over its failure to adopt sanctions and apply pressure on Myanmar, Asean’s newest member, following the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

“Asean is reluctant to implement human rights and democracy,” said Hiro Katsumata, an analyst at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Asean would not impose sanctions against Myanmar, following a meeting between Yudhoyono and Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo.

“There is no tradition of sanction in Asean,” spokesman Dino Pati Djalal said in Jakarta, according to a Xinhua report.

The charter is expected to be signed Nov. 20 in Singapore at the annual Asean summit. It will then be sent back to individual lawmaking bodies for ratification.

Human Rights Body

The draft of the charter also calls for the creation of an Asean human rights body following the September crackdown in Myanmar, in which at least 30 people were killed, according to the Australian government. Hundreds were also arrested as authorities fired on and clubbed demonstrators.

“This is for the international audience,” said Katsumata, “to show it is doing something.”

Ong Keng Yong, the Asean secretary-general, acknowledged the crackdown in Myanmar would damp the “positive vibes” surrounding the summit and the adoption of the charter.

“It would be wrong to say it would not have an impact,” Ong told reporters in October. “I think the Asean chair, the prime minister of Singapore, the foreign minister of Singapore, are actively working in this direction, to make sure that we stay together as a group, as a family.”

Asean admitted Myanmar a decade ago against opposition from the U.S. and the European Union over its human rights record and detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It is likely to sign the charter.

Punishments Dropped

The charter draft excludes several recommendations by an “Eminent Persons’ Group” that includes former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar and former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas. The group recommended expulsion and suspension for serious breaches of code of conduct, including rights violations.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo had also recommended a voting system on decisions, which wouldn’t require 100 percent unanimity, which isn’t in the draft.

“As a basic principle, decision-making in Asean shall be based on consultation and consensus,” the draft reads. “Where consensus cannot be achieved, the Asean summit may decide how a specific decision can be made.”

“Asean’s problem is not one of lack of vision, ideas or action plans,” the Eminent Persons’ Group said in its report. “The problem is one of ensuring compliance and effective implementation.”

Four Decades Old

Asean, in its 40th year, will establish a human rights body for the “promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the draft read. The body, if established, will operate according to terms set out by the organization’s foreign ministers. There was no explanation of the terms in the draft of the charter.

The organization includes democracies Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Singapore; Thailand, under the control of a military-backed government since a coup last year; communist nations Laos and Vietnam; a monarchy in Brunei; and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. It has a combined population of 570 million and GDP of about $1 trillion.

The bloc is also aiming to craft its own free-trade area by 2010, with EU-style integration – without a single currency – by 2015.

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