Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fears it might be a 'toothless tiger'

By Kittipong Thavevong
The Nation

Phuket - Advocates voice concerns that the commission will not be able to control abuse in member countries like Burma

Phuket - Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that in the initial stages, the Asean human-rights commission will focus on promotion rather than protection of rights.

"Progress will first be made on the front of promotion, but the protection side will not be ignored. It is better to make a start than to leave it hanging with no progress at all," Abhisit explained. (JEG's: what do we tell the landmine victims, the ones displaced by the junta, the ones forced recruited to become porters, the ones under slavery etc etc... what do we tell them? "we are promoting human rights, it should be ready after you are dead...")

Protection would be achieved through a roadmap and an evolutionary process among the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he said.

In response to concerns about it "lacking teeth" to protect Asean citizens against human-rights violations in their countries, Abhisit said: "We want to establish a body that promotes the issue. Once that is put into place, there will be more teeth for the body in terms of protection."

Human-rights advocates have expressed concerns that the new body will fall short of international standards and lack the power to deal with problematic Asean countries like military-ruled Burma. In addition, civil society groups campaigning in Phuket during the regional meetings say they don't want an Asean human-rights body that is a "toothless paper tiger".

"The body has two purposes - promotion and protection - and three principles: credibility, realistic and evolutionary," Abhisit said, referring to possible obstacles posed by undemocratic governments of certain member countries, particularly Burma.

The prime minister was speaking at the Sheraton Grande Laguna hotel in the resort island of Phuket following the opening ceremony of the 42nd Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting yesterday morning.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, as chair of the Asean meetings, said on Sunday night that more effort would be made to promote and protect human rights in the region.

Asean foreign ministers met with the High-Level Panel, which presented them with draft terms of reference on the body's establishment.

The body, expected to be officially called the Asean Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights, as suggested by the panel, is required under the Asean Charter, which came into effect last December.

When the terms of reference are finalised by the foreign ministers in Phuket, the rights body will be set up at the summit of Asean leaders in October, again in Phuket. Thailand is actively pushing for the body to be created during its rotating chairmanship, which expires at the end of this year.

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