Monday, August 3, 2009

Activists Skeptical on Asean Human Rights Body

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese human rights activists have expressed skepticism over the role of the Asean Human Rights Body, claiming for now at least that it is a paper tiger.

Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are set to approve the draft Terms of Reference (TOR) for the human rights body in July.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said at the 42nd Asean Ministerial Meeting in Phuket last month that the body failed meet everyone’s expectations, and that it should work to become a credible, realistic and evolutionary body.

Aung Myo Min, the director of Human Rights Education Institute of Burma in Thailand, told The Irrawaddy that the body is only a “paper tiger” and was not an organization that could protect people effectively.

He urged Asean to commit to the protection of human rights, form a commission with authority to investigate and report on rights violations and establish a court empowered to take action against violators.

Asean has proposed to name the human rights body the Asean Inter-Governmental Commission of Human Rights, which is expected to be endorsed by the group’s leaders at a summit in Thailand in October.

Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Altsean), said, “Actually, the Asean Human Rights Body can not protect its people effectively.”

“They say their Asean Human Rights Charter has an international standard. But, they do not accept international norms about human rights.”

Some observers say that Asean’s initiative to establish a human rights mechanism is itself a positive sign.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said in July that the TOR is a beginning of an evolving process. It is a living document that will provide an evolutionary framework, he said, and a platform to further Asean’s efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights.

The draft terms of reference state the body's purpose is “to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedom” of Asean citizens.

As it now exists, the body continues the tradition of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states and, as such, is not expected to present immediate problems to countries such as Burma, Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia, which are generally ranked low on human rights rankings.

Aung Myo Min said all Asean member states and civil society groups must work together to make the body more effective and have real impact.

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