Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ASEAN Great Compromisers

New Asean that needs no outsider's judgment
is no different from the
non-interfering old Asean of decades ago
Compromising - even on human rights


(Bangkok Post) -Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's self-indulgent portrayal of a new Asean that needs no outsider's judgement is no different from the old non-interfering Asean of decades ago.

In rebutting Indonesian discontent over the watered down terms of reference (ToR) of the Asean human rights commission, Thailand has also shunned external criticism of the regional grouping, saying that Asean preferred to fine-tune its work with member states rather than punish each other.

FM Kasit said at the end of the Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) on Monday that Asean has opted to work towards conciliation and consultation in an amicable manner when there are differences or non-compliance, including on human rights matters.

The regional human rights body to be launched at the Asean Summit in October under the banner of "Asean Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights" will carry the two-fold mandate of promotion and protection, but deliberations on some controversial aspects of protection would be done by the leaders in three months.

Apart from the new human rights body, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has also tried to come up with a set of dispute settlement mechanisms to deal with rising problems regarding implementation of the Asean Charter and in other grey areas.

However, Mr Kasit firmly said there was no intention to seek out "crime and punishment".

"We deal with it through good offices first [when problems crop up] and then arbitration. We do it in a civilised way - working together from inside out and not waiting for outsiders to punish us."

Thailand has been so eager to launch the human rights commission that it has exercised great diplomatic finesse to get the ToR accepted in time for the AMM, with lots of compromising.

The Thai chairmanship has been plagued with a series of domestic political problems, resulting in several postponements of the 14th Summit and the failure of the Pattaya summit during the Songkran festival due to the intrusion of the Red Shirts of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

Launching the regional human rights mechanism will certainly help in restoring the damaged image of Thailand in the eyes of Asean and the international community.

But it is not just Thailand that has to be blamed for the soft-faceted commission. The Philippines and Malaysia, beleaguered with their own problems, have also backed off from reflecting the high expectations of their civil society groups for the new body to have protection mechanisms and the Burma issue in general.

Indonesia was the only one to come up against the other nine members when it came to the human rights body's negotiation and debate during the past year as experts met to draft the terms of reference.

Even the nice man, Hassan Wirajuda, the Indonesian foreign minister, was dismayed that he ended up being the loner in the "sea of change".

"Indonesia has been solely embarking on the explicit deliberations of the new body on monitoring, country visits, and the UN-like peer review tasks," said one of the senior delegates.

Mr Wirajuda yesterday toned down his country's frustration, saying that he just wanted to make the protection deliberations clear.

Indonesia's human rights body explictly mentions the protection mandate but the regional body had something less, said Mr Wirajuda.

The Thai host eventually took a face-saving step by ensuring that an elaboration on the protection element of the commission will be done in the Political Declaration by the Asean leaders.

The drafting of the Leaders' Political Declaration will be finalised by the ToR-drafting High Level Panel in Manila next month.

In defending the accusation that the new commission had no teeth, Mr Kasit said that instead of criticism, the regional grouping should be thanked for having come this far.

"We have to move the two fronts [promotion and protection] in unison. The different political systems within Asean will be improved and developed later in due time."

The same tone was adopted by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"It is better to make headway with the launch first, bearing in mind that the body must be credible, realistic and evolutionary."

Mr Abhisit expects the evolution to be clearly defined in the ToR framework. "We establish a body that begins with the issue of promotion first. The teeth will come along later."

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, who probably understands the issue best, conceded that there was a feeling in Asean, particularly in Indonesia, that the grouping was not moving fast enough.

"Indonesia has the right to be euphoric and proud about its own achievement [on democracy], so they put their own frustration into a positive energy to direct Asean in the right direction," said Mr Surin.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma), said the human rights commission was purely a body for the governments and by the governments - not the peoples of the region.

"It is absurd when Asean said they don't want the name-and-shame by outsiders. With this toothless commission, how will the regional grouping prevent itself from being criticised?" Ms Stothard asked.

Only a strong human rights mechanism could prevent external criticism about the human rights regime in our region, she said.

"Now the civil society, which has been eyeing the new body to do something, has to make complaints right away to the UN, not the regional entity," she said.

She also said the rebranding of Asean as a united force was meaningless. "They said they are going for a rules-based body but still there is no common standard and the way they handle regional concerns such as the Burma issue has been depending on the host - it's like this every year."

Asean remains a long way from transforming from a consensus-based body into a problem-solving organisation, Ms Stothard concluded.

Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's executive director for its Asia Division, also called on Thailand, as the Asean chair, and Burma's major political and economic partner with significant leverage and policy options, to help improve the respect for human rights and promote political reform in Burma.

Although he admitted there should be no wishful thinking that conciliatory talks from Thailand or other countries will cause Burma's generals to soften their stance, Thailand still needed a bolder approach in dealing with Burma, to show that engagement can produce concrete results, not empty promises, Mr Adams said.

Recent Posts from Burma Wants Freedom and Democracy

Recent posts from WHO is WHO in Burma


The Nuke Light of Myanmar Fan Box
The Nuke Light of Myanmar on Facebook
Promote your Page too