Myanmar opposes investigative powers

30 July 2008

The Associated Press (AP) reveals a worrying signal from Myanmar on the issue of the ASEAN human rights body.

Myanmar opposes investigative powers
By JIM GOMEZ – Jul 22, 2008

SINGAPORE (AP) — Myanmar’s junta has indicated it will oppose any effort to give a Southeast Asian human rights body the power to monitor or investigate rights violations in the region, diplomats said Tuesday.

A high-level panel of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations started work Monday to set up the rights body. The panel will lay down the body’s future makeup, role and powers, which will be presented to a summit of ASEAN leaders in December.

But in a closed-door session with the panel Monday, Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win said the human rights body should uphold ASEAN’s bedrock policy of noninterference in each other’s affairs, a diplomat present at the meeting told The Associated Press.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

Another diplomat who attended a separate meeting between all 10 ASEAN ministers and the panel also said Nyan Win made clear his opposition to the rights body having any monitoring authority.

Myanmar’s military government, which has been strongly criticized by Western governments and even fellow ASEAN members for its dismal human rights record, has used the bloc’s policy to parry any attempt by outsiders to intervene on behalf of human rights victims in the military-ruled nation.

It has already been decided that the rights body will not have the power to impose sanctions or seek prosecution of violators. But Myanmar’s objections, if honored, will make the body even less effective.

A majority of other ASEAN foreign ministers, led by Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, separately told the panel that the human rights body should at least be empowered to monitor violations and offer advice to prevent such problems, said the first diplomat.

Myanmar officials were not immediately available for comment but in the past they have said the human rights body should only serve as a “consultative mechanism” and that it should not “shame and blame” any ASEAN nation.

The rights body is being set up as part of ASEAN’s proposed new charter, which seeks to make the organization rule-based.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the charter will serve as a guide to the panel drafting the terms of reference for the rights body.

“They’re going to follow the charter very, very closely — its principle of promoting, upholding and protecting human rights,” Surin said.

The international community has condemned Myanmar’s junta for its refusal to restore democracy and release pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees. ASEAN has also been criticized for not doing enough to pressure Myanmar’s military leaders.

ASEAN foreign ministers, disappointed with the Myanmar junta’s foot-dragging on democracy, expressed “deep disappointment” in a statement Sunday at the junta’s May decision to extend Suu Kyi’s detention.

ASEAN’s members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

SE Asia begins negotiations to set up rights body

30 July 2008

Reuters reports on the different views expressed by the 10 member countries of ASEAN, with regards to the proposed human rights body under the ASEAN Charter.

21st July 2008
SE Asia begins negotiations to set up rights body
By Manny Mogato

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has begun negotiations for the creation of a human rights body, a senior Philippine official said on Monday, with hopes of concluding talks in Bangkok next July.

Rosario Manalo, Manila’s representative on a high-level panel drafting the framework, said they expected to show ASEAN foreign ministers a draft of the terms of reference of the rights body by December 2008.

“I am very positive we can finish our job by the time ASEAN foreign ministers meet next July in Bangkok,” Manalo told reporters, adding that more member states had recently expressed willingness to set up an independent body with broader powers.

Last year, Southeast Asian leaders agreed in Singapore to set up a rules-based organization. Among key institutions they agreed to establish was a human rights body.

In a communique, ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Singapore on Monday “reaffirmed the commitment by all member countries to ratify the ASEAN Charter by the 14th ASEAN summit in Bangkok” in December.

Only Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have yet to approve the charter after Myanmar formally informed the bloc of its ratification this week.

Manalo said some member states which had been initially reluctant to form even a local human rights body had become supportive after the 10-member task force met the ASEAN foreign ministers on Monday.

“The minister of Laos was supportive of the human rights body and was doing more positive things,” said Manalo, a former diplomat.

“The minister of Vietnam was very conciliatory and very positive. He said we can find common grounds to agree and only one or two states were holding on to their positions to keep the status quo.”


The Philippines has urged the bloc to work on the universal standard of human rights as adopted by the United Nations because all 10 members were signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand wanted a strong, independent body that would not only protect and promote human rights, but also compel members to make periodic reports on progress, an official said.

Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam wanted only an advisory or consultative body, while Singapore and Brunei preferred to define human rights in the context of ASEAN.

“In short, these countries wanted a watered-down human rights body, where state interests prevail over the rights of individuals,” the official said.

The task force was beginning its work on Monday and hoped to conclude negotiations by the next ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bangkok in a year’s time, he said.

Manalo said some initially reluctant states had become more positive, believing that ASEAN must create a rights body that was “more realistic and credible — not just to the people of the region, but for the rest of the world”.

Last month, Singapore’s Tommy Koh, head of the task force drafting an ASEAN charter calling for protection of human rights, said there was no consensus on the body having the power to monitor or investigate rights situation in the 10 member states.

“We do not want the ASEAN human rights body to be accusatory, a finger-pointing body,” said Koh.

ASEAN, a bloc encompassing half a billion people, groups Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

(Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Roger Crabb)

ASEAN human rights body to rely on ‘peer pressure’

29 July 2008

Agence France-Presse (AFP) has a news report, providing details of the proposed ASEAN human rights body

22nd July 2008
ASEAN human rights body to rely on ‘peer pressure’
A South-East Asian human rights body expected to come into force next year will have no power to impose sanctions and will rely on ‘peer pressure’ to bring members into line, officials said on Monday.

A panel drafting the terms of reference for the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) human rights body is to submit its first report to foreign ministers at the bloc’s 2008 summit in Bangkok, a statement said.

A final draft could be in place in 2009, paving the way for the human rights organisation to begin its work.

‘We aim to achieve a result that is realistic, balanced and credible, and which would be in the best collective interest of ASEAN,’ the panel’s chairman, Bilahari Kausikan, said after it met foreign ministers on Monday.

Mr Kausikan said the panel would convene monthly before meeting ASEAN ministers again in December. An interim report is to be completed in September.

One South-east Asian official privy to the negotiations said however that the body would likely end up powerless to punish rights violators, including Myanmar which has ignored international calls to institute democratic reforms.

‘The body will not be empowered to have sanctions,’ the official said. ‘It will work on peer pressure, will measure progress and will seek periodic explanations for non-progress.’ A database on human rights violations will also be created, the official said.

The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand want the rights body to have a monitoring and enforcement capacity modelled on the United Nations, the official said.

Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are pressing to water down the terms of reference to ensure the human rights body is largely an advisory panel. Brunei has not stated its position, the official said.

ASEAN leaders, during a summit in Singapore last year, signed a charter which committed member states to notions of democracy and human rights and for the first time set out principles and rules for the group.

Under the charter, a human rights body would be established in a region that includes countries with poor human rights records, such as military-run Myanmar, which is subject to international sanctions.

Activists fear that ASEAN, which cherishes a policy of non-interference in members’ internal affairs, will establish a rights mechanism that is toothless and ineffective.

SYINC conference

20 July 2008

SYINC is organising a conference for youths named SYINConnect. 3 MARUAH members will be speaking at SYINConnect. More details below.

Want to meet like-minded people who are passionate about making a difference?
Want to learn from respected and experienced community leaders and social entrepreneurs?

SYINConnect is a one-day youth conference that connects participants to urgent social issues, and what people are doing about them in Singapore. Participants will get the opportunity to meet the community leaders making change in our society today, and build the skills, networks and confidence to be effective agents of change.

Saturday, 26th July 2008
8.00 am – 6.30 pm
Republic Polytechnic

If you have any further queries, do not hesitate to contact us at

ASEAN meets in Singapore

17 July 2008

Singapore is hosting the 41st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), the Post Ministerial Conferences (PMC) and the 15th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Singapore from 17 July – 24 July 2008.

Of specific concern to MARUAH is the anticipated announcement of the members of the High Level Panel on the Establishment of the ASEAN Human Rights Body (HLP). The HLP will be tasked with drafting the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the proposed ASEAN Human Rights Body.

The programme schedule also includes a meeting with the Working Group for ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (Working Group).

MARUAH has been working closely with the Working Group on this issue. Ms Braema Mathiaparanam, co-ordinator of MARUAH and the Singapore focal point of the Working Group, is expected to be part of that meeting.

The ThinkBox by AWARE presents “Sex, Power and Office Politics”

10 July 2008

Our partner, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) is organising a public forum on sexual harassment in the workplace, and MARUAH member, Mr Siew Kum Hong will be chairing the session.

Details below
– Date and Time: Monday, 14 July 2008, 7:00 PM – 9:30 PM
– Venue: The Box at SMU (Li Ka Shing Library, 70 Stamford Road, Basement One)
– FREE Admission

The ThinkBox by AWARE is a public forum series that encourages open dialogue between professionals, academics, and students about current events. The upcoming session, “Sex, Power, and Office Politics,” will cover how sex can make or break you in the workplace, and why that’s a bad thing. Professional panelists will review the recent findings of an AWARE report on workplace sexual harassment, and discuss how companies, the government, organizations, and individuals can work together to overcome this problem. The goal of this ThinkBox is to give the public an opportunity to become part of the solution to eradicating sexual harassment from Singapore.

Singapore falls short on rights: lawyers’ group

9 July 2008

Agence France-Presse (AFP) has highlighted a report(PDF) by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI).

IBAHRI’s press release “expressed concern about limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and the press, and of the independence of the judiciary in Singapore.”

18 recommendations are made in the report, which are reproduced below.

  1. Singapore should ratify the ICCPR without reservations and implement its provisions at the earliest opportunity.
  2. Singapore should immediately bring its restrictions on free expression in line with recognised international customary law.
  3. Singapore should immediately abolish defamation as a criminal offence, or in the alternative and should abolish heavy sanctions for defamation offences; prohibit public officials from instituting criminal defamation; and review the existing defences to ensure they are in line with international standards.
  4. The Singapore Government should pass legislative limits on civil defamation pay-outs, and certainly on cases initiated by government officials.
  5. A defence of qualified privilege for comments made about government officials should be made available and enforced by the courts in appropriate cases.
  6. The Singapore Government should take steps to encourage, not discourage, opposition participation and debate.
  7. Singapore Government officials should stop initiating defamation claims for criticisms made in the course of political debate.
  8. The Singapore Government should increase the freedom of the press – both domestic and foreign – to report on political issues impacting on the people of Singapore.
  9. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act should be amended so as to ensure that there are checks and balances on the decision to restrict the circulation of publications under the Act.
  10. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act should be amended to allow reasonable comment on the domestic politics of Singapore by foreign publications.
  11. Singapore should remove personal responsibility for internet hosts for information published on their hosted sites or should clarify the limitations on material that may not be posted.
  12. Steps should be taken to ensure that internet bloggers are free to make reasonable statements in the public interest.
  13. Security of tenure should be granted to all judges.
  14. Transfer of judges between executive and judicial roles should be abolished.
  15. The situations in which demonstrations may take place should be expanded to include all peaceful assemblies.
  16. Limitations on penalties for peaceful assembly should be introduced as a matter of urgency.
  17. The Singapore Government should respect the right of the Singapore Law Society to engage in debate on law reform and should immediately repeal the prohibition on the Singapore Law Society commenting on legislation.
  18. The Singapore Law Society should ensure that it is actively participating in law reform debates on a wide range of issues, as that is its responsibility as a law society.

UPDATE: The Ministry of Law has issued a response. Both the Straits Times and TODAY have reported on the response.