Charter’s call to protect human rights welcomed

The Straits Times reported on MARUAH’s position paper on the ASEAN charter.

Charter’s call to protect human rights welcomed
The Straits Times – November 22, 2007
Zakir Hussain

A NEW civil society working group welcomed the ASEAN Charter as a promising ‘positive step’, even as it raised several concerns about the document inked on Tuesday.

The interim Singapore Working Committee for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, which calls itself MARUAH – Malay for dignity, aims to raise awareness of human rights.

It was formed in September when key civil society organisations met to help shape the kind of human rights body ASEAN would finally set up, following the July decision by the grouping’s leaders to include a provision for a human rights body in the Charter.

When up and running, MARUAH will be part of a coalition of national groups from ASEAN countries which has its secretariat in Manila.

In a four-page statement this week, MARUAH congratulated ASEAN for successfully negotiating the ASEAN Charter and welcomed its call to protect human rights.

‘We feel that through the ASEAN Charter, more good will be achieved for the people of ASEAN,’ it said.

The group itself plans to offer a Singapore perspective on the ASEAN human rights body and work with its ASEAN counterparts to set up an inter-governmental human rights commission.

However, MARUAH expressed concern that the Charter did not provide ‘adequate comfort’ on how non-compliant member states would be dealt with.

Provisions of the Charter were also ‘vague and open to different interpretations’.

It said: ‘We would also like to seek assurance on how the ASEAN Charter would function…in situations where respect for the sovereignty of member states may be in direct conflict with human rights violations within that member state.’

It noted that ASEAN was already facing difficulties in dealing with the Myanmar crisis.

It also stressed the need for ASEAN to involve civil society and expressed disappointment that civil society groups were not engaged in drafting the Charter in the run-up to this week’s ASEAN summit.

The group’s members come from organisations such as the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), Transient Workers Count Too and Action for Aids.

Led by social activist and Straits Times journalist Braema Mathi, members include AWARE president Constance Singam, nominated MP Siew Kum Hong, and former Law Society president Peter Low.

Said Mr Siew: ‘The Charter gives us a unique opportunity to get a dialogue on human rights started.

‘Hopefully there is a chance for groups like ours to engage governments and shape what the human rights body could look like.’

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