ASEAN human rights body to rely on ‘peer pressure’

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.

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