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17 Nov 07
November 16, 2007
H.E. Ong Keng Yong
The ASEAN Secretariat
70A, Jalan Sisingamangaraja
Dear Secretary General,
Freedom House commends members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for establishing a human rights body within its charter. We are extremely concerned, however, that ASEAN’s consensus-based model of decision-making will result in weak and unenforceable human rights policies for the organization. We regret that ASEAN members have chosen to maintain the organization’s policy of non-interference and to exclude the option of punitive measures directed towards those member states committing major human rights violations.
Other regional organizations have binding human rights mechanisms that can effectively address human rights abuses and democratic lapses occurring within member states:
The Organization of American States (OAS) allows for the suspension of a member state during specific breaches of democracy, and also has a separate Democracy Charter that outlines members’ obligation to promote and defend democracy. The OAS also has a legal system under which complaints can be addressed.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC), composed of twelve southern African nations, also stresses the importance of democracy and human rights in its treaty. This commitment takes the form of the organization’s Parliamentary Forum, an inter-parliamentary body that has developed electoral norms and standards.
Similarly, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states that “pluralistic democracy and rule of law are essential for ensuring respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) conducts election observation missions and monitors human rights issues within member states.
These are potential options for ASEAN.
The Burmese junta’s brutal repression of the recent democratic uprising there is already putting ASEAN’s human rights ideals to a test. We strongly urge ASEAN to show that it is serious about human rights by taking firm action against the Burmese government, in the form of sanctions or other strongly censuring actions. In light of the organization’s newly articulated commitment to human rights, ASEAN is obligated to take action in addressing this appalling situation.