ABC Radio Australia
ASEAN, meeting on the Thai island resort of Phuket this week, had hoped to be recognised for its new Human Rights Commission, which it sees as a huge step in its 42-year existence.
But document details released so far have been criticised as being too vague and lacking bite.
Presenter: Karen Percy, South East Asia correspondent
Speakers: Rafendi Djamin, co-ordinator of the Human Rights Working Group; Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thai Prime Minister
Percy: There’s little doubt that South East Asia needs a human rights body. Burma’s generals have used violence against monks, locked up comedians and have been relentless in their campaign to silence and sideline the country’s beloved pro-democracy hero, Aung San Suu Kyi. Cambodia sues its political opponents or allows violent vigilantes to intimidate dissenters. In Vietnam, practising Christianity can put you on the wrong side of the law. Even advanced and wealthy Singapore discriminates against gays and lesbians. Each of the 10 member countries could do with improvement, but critics say that isn’t likely to happen with ASEAN’s new human rights body.
Rafendi: It’s going to be a political as well as a legal document so in that sense you cannot just go to the lowest, lowest common denominator.
Percy: Rafendi Djamin is with the Indonesian-based Human Rights Working Group. He’s teamed up with civil society and advocacy groups from across the region trying to persuade ASEAN nations to take a stronger stand.
Rafendi: Human rights itself is already something that is already committed in the charter and enshrined in the charter. That means that the principal of non-interference, if you’re going to put it that way, is one that becomes barriers for the human rights body to operate.
Percy: The 11-page document setting out the framework for the intergovernmental commission on human rights is laced with qualifications and generalisms. Even Indonesia tried to beef up the language with no luck. Instead it had to be content with a statement from AEAN leaders later this year, promising that the process will be strengthened over time. ASEAN’s president and Thailand’s prime minister, is Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Abhisit: It’s not something that we will just go on doing without any kind of assessment at all. But we believe that with the implementation of the charter, when the grouping and the community becomes more rules-based there will be more room for manouevre in terms of trying to tackle these kinds of issues.
Percy: Human rights advocate Rafendi Djamin understands the idea of an evolving body but he maintains that there have to be better provisions to protect ASEAN’s 500-million citizens.
Rafendi: When the mandate of protection was not clearly stipulated then you will have the problem because then at the operation level some government will not accept that kind of action when they say, well, this is an interpretation that we do not accept.