Here is a report from AFP of the start of the 7th Workshop, held in Singapore, June 12-13, 2008.
12 June 2008
Creating ASEAN rights body not easy: Singapore
SINGAPORE – Creating a human rights body for ASEAN will not be easy and must have support from all the bloc’s members, a Singapore cabinet minister said Thursday.
“Let us have no illusions that the road ahead will be easy,” Raymond Lim said in a speech to regional civil society groups and government representatives who met to discuss rights.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has often been criticized for failing to act firmly against its member Myanmar, whose refusal to shift towards democracy has frequently embarrassed its neighbors.
At its annual summit last year in Singapore, ASEAN leaders signed a charter which commits member states to notions of democracy and human rights and for the first time sets out principles and rules for the group.
Under the charter, a human rights body will be established in a region that includes countries, such as Myanmar, with poor human rights records.
Next month a panel will begin drafting terms of reference for the ASEAN human rights body, said Lim, whose country holds the rotating chair of the 10-nation group.
“First, any new ASEAN institution must have the support of all 10 member states,” said Lim, second minister for foreign affairs.
“This does not mean that we should lack ambition. But our policies must take cognizance of ASEAN’s established traditions and procedures.”
Rights activists fear ASEAN could end up establishing a toothless mechanism, and said the bloc’s cherished policy of non-interference in domestic affairs of members could also come in the way in punishing rights violators.
Lim said that advancing human rights in ASEAN “will best be achieved through an evolutionary approach… Too much ambition can as easily scuttle this important project as too little.”
But he added the bloc’s human rights body must be credible and meaningful to its members.
“An important responsibility has been placed on ASEAN and we should not be found wanting,” he said.
Recommendations from two days of discussion in Singapore would be sent to the panel which begins work in July, he said.