Rights panel still thorny issue in ASEAN charter

Rights panel still thorny issue in ASEAN charter
By Cynthia Balana
Inquirer
Last updated 01:31am (Mla time) 07/29/2007

MANILA, Philippines—Southeast Asian nations are unable to agree on setting up a human rights commission and on sanctions against members who flout the regional group’s rules, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said Saturday.

 

According to reports, some countries, including Burma (Myanmar), had opposed moves within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to set up a rights commission, decide issues by vote rather than by consensus, and provide for sanctions.

 

Romulo, speaking after senior officials had completed the first draft of an ASEAN charter, said 90 percent of the document had been agreed upon but these three issues remained unresolved.

 

He also described the deliberations, which extended well into the wee hours of the morning the past two days, as “exhaustive.”

 

Complete draft today

 

He said the High Level Task Force (HLTF) assigned to draft the charter was hoping to finish the draft Sunday in time for the informal dinner for the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) delegates tomorrow at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).

 

“They told me at least 90 percent has been agreed upon. Among the several items that the Philippines hopes to be included are the issue on human rights and voting other than by consensus,” Romulo said.

 

He noted that the Philippine position on the inclusion of a human rights clause in the charter was firm and definite.

 

“We have a position and we hope that position is upheld. We believe it is a good position and should be supported,” Romulo said.

 

He pointed out that even the United Nations charter had a universal declaration of human rights.

 

“It’s a universal desire that there must be a human rights commission. I believe the ASEAN can do no less,” Romulo said.

 

He said it was not up to him to make a comment or prejudge the outcome of the thorny issue, adding that it was up to the HLTF.

 

“We are not focusing on any country. It is up to them to come up with the desired result. I am optimistic, however, that they will come to an agreement,” Romulo said.

 

He also confirmed that five foreign ministers would not be able to attend the ARF because of certain developments in their countries but they would be represented by their deputies. These are the ministers of the United States, Canada, Pakistan, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea.

 

Foreign ministers from the 10-member ASEAN will meet in Manila from tomorrow night onward to thresh out a charter and present it for adoption at a leaders’ summit in November.

 

Derided by West

 

For decades, ASEAN has been derided by the West because of its reluctance to get involved in the internal affairs of member countries and its commitment to decide issues only by consensus.

 

The United States and the European Union have particularly blamed the group for not bringing enough pressure on Burma’s junta to end rights abuses and a crackdown on the opposition.

 

Older members of the group, including founding members Malaysia and the Philippines, have expressed concern that the image of ASEAN as a whole has taken a beating because of Burma. With AP and Inquirer wire reports

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