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6 Aug 07
Civil society groups blasted the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Monday for its “abysmal human rights record” at a forum in Singapore marking the organisation’s accomplishments two days before its 40th anniversary.
Seventy-five delegates from the 10 countries belonging to ASEAN were attending the two-day Think Tank Forum co-organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and the Institute of Policy Studies.
Debbie Stothard, with the Bangkok-based Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said the anniversary “should be a wake-up call about Myanmar being a millstone” for ASEAN.
She accused the organisation of protecting the military dictatorship and failing to address the rampant disease and poverty in the country.
“ASEAN is seen to be an elite organisation with an abysmal human rights record,” Stothard said.
ASEAN’s failure to address illegal logging or protect migrant workers was brought up by Emmy Hafield, executive director of Greenpeace South-East Asia. “Is there any hope?” she asked.
Cross-border money laundering was also mentioned in addition to the widening gap between the rich and poor. “ASEAN has failed to deliver,” Stothard said.
The criticism came after ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong held that the organisation had “maintained peace in South-East Asia”.
“Without ASEAN, the geography would be the same, the politics different,” Ong added, and took credit for keeping “controversial issues” off the table, referring to ASEAN’s tenet of non-interference in each country’s internal affairs.
Reacting to the criticism on Myanmar, Ong said the organisation’s strategy toward Myanmar was “step-by-step”.
“Myanmar is a country that can be happily isolated. The only leverage we have is to make sure that they are part of discussions.”
“We know sanctions will not work,” he added, referring to those imposed by the West.
The forum is also examining the key issues of the next four decades including economic integration and competitiveness, security, the environment, energy and climate change.
Singapore took over the ASEAN chairmanship last Thursday at a handing-over ceremony at the closing of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila