ASEAN to Sign ‘Flawed’ Rights Pact

Leaders of Southeast Asian nations are set to ink a much-criticized human rights declaration.
2012-11-15
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cambodia-asean-summit-305.jpg
Cambodians ride their bikes on Nov. 15, 2012 past the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, the site of the ASEAN Summit and related meetings.
AFP

Southeast Asian nations are set to sign a human rights declaration at a summit next week despite objections by rights groups who say the document is “fundamentally flawed.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Human Rights Declaration, which would be the first pact on rights by the 10-member grouping in a region notorious for rights abuses, is on the agenda for the bloc’s annual leaders meeting that starts Sunday in Cambodia.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters at a press briefing Thursday that the leaders "will adopt the declaration" when they gather in Phnom Penh on Nov. 18-20.

But international rights and civil society groups have called for a delay until the text of the document is revised to meet global standards.

Over 60 grassroots, national, regional, and international civil society groups issued a statement on Thursday calling on ASEAN member states to postpone adopting the declaration, saying the document in its current form “is not worthy of its name.”

“The Declaration as it stands now unquestionably fails to meet existing international human rights standards, let alone add value to them,” said the statement by the groups, which include Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  

“It flies in the face of the international consensus on human rights principles that have been in place for more than six decades,” it said.

The declaration includes stipulations that make rights subject to “national and regional contexts” and other provisions, eroding the protection for them, the statement said.

The groups warned that the bloc’s adoption of the pact during the summit in Phnom Penh would “reflect negatively” on the Cambodian government, which as the current ASEAN chair is hosting the annual summit as well as the East Asia Summit.

Lack of consultations

United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay had voiced similar concerns about the rights declaration last week, urging the bloc "to take the necessary time to develop a declaration that fully conforms with international human rights standards.”

She expressed concern about the lack of input from civil society groups.

In an open letter Wednesday to U.S. President Barack Obama, who will attend the East Asia Summit next week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists asked him to urge ASEAN governments “to take the time to draft the declaration with the participation of human rights and civil society groups, and ensure that it fully conforms with international human rights standards.”

Obama is also scheduled to meet the leaders of ASEAN, which comprises Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

ASEAN diplomats have called the declaration a milestone in the region despite its imperfections, saying that it could help cement emerging reforms in some member countries such as Burma, emerging from decades of harsh military rule.

cambodia-asean-hor-namhong-305.jpg
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong (r) speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh, Nov. 15, 2012. Credit: RFA.

Hor Namhong said ASEAN was not surprised with the opposition to the declaration from international rights groups.

"Of course, this declaration will not totally satisfy some civil society groups," Hor Namhong said, according to Agence France-Presse.

"This is the first step," he said, adding that ASEAN might consult with civil society groups in the future to improve the text.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.