ASEAN People Deserves Full Human Rights—Romulo

Please see below for a press release from the Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo on the ASEAN Human Rights Body.

ASEAN People Deserves Full Human Rights—Romulo

April 8, 2009 by DFA-PISU

PR-169-09, 08 April 2009—Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo called on the member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to hasten the creation of an effective and credible ASEAN human rights body to fully protect and promote individual and collective freedoms in the region.

Citing the pioneering effort to establish an ASEAN Human Rights Body (AHRB), Dr. Romulo said the regional organization “must ensure the body is focused on strengthening human rights values, so that it can become an institution for building democratic states and a democratic regional community in Southeast Asia.”

Romulo emphasized that need to make human freedoms the centerpiece of regional growth and civilization in remarks delivered at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Hua Hin, Thailand.

He said the ASEAN should derive its inspiration from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafted and adopted by the United Nations more than 60 years ago. The Declaration “came to embody the core values and common standard of inalienable rights for all of mankind,” Romulo said, recalling that the Philippines, together with 11 Asian countries, was one of the states that drafted the landmark document.

ASEAN, therefore, need not start from a clean slate, but should rather aim “to build and improve on existing universally accepted human rights by adding value to these standards,” the foreign secretary said. He described the ASEAN spadework to create the AHRB “remarkable” for being the first human rights institution for a regional community.

But human rights must have a single norm, a universal standard “applicable to one and all without exception,” Dr. Romulo stressed. To launch the human rights body on an auspicious beginning, he challenged ASEAN, beginning with Myanmar, to recognize national shortcomings in the matter of human rights and take steps to protect basic freedom.

Romulo added, “As part of this process of self-examination, I believe it is time the government of Myanmar carried out its own “Roadmap for Democracy”: its avowed program of releasing political detainees, including the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi; unfettering the National League for Democracy, and allowing its unconditional participation in free national elections. Since its acceptance into the ASEAN family in 1997, the government of Myanmar has been declaring its commitment to democracy and promising a process of national reconciliation. Fulfilling these commitments is long overdue.

“For the Myanmar government to fulfill these commitments before the launching of the AHRB would be a compelling act of goodwill and sincerity. It would make AHRB credible not only to the world community but even more important – to our own peoples.”

Romulo said, he sees that AHRB as the overarching institution that deals with all aspects of human rights – consulting, coordinating and collaborating with relevant ASEAN bodies on women, children and migrant workers – to promote synergy and coherence in ASEAN’s promotion and protection of human rights. Future committees and working groups relating to human rights in ASEAN should work under its framework, he added.

He expressed support for Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda’s proposal that the AHRB disseminate human rights norms and educate the people in their entitlements and expectations from the human rights body.

Dr. Romulo predicted that once the AHRB has proved its efficacy, calling it by proper name, “ASEAN Council for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights,” would accord it the “level of prestige and significance appropriate to its work within the ASEAN framework.”

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