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ASEAN urged to rethink its rights charter


NEW YORK (UCAN) : A group working for the passage of a human rights charter for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) warned that flaws in the process are an embarrassment, as foreign ministers from the various countries that make up the block sat down to study the draft on September 27 during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Human rights have become a stumbling block for the ASEAN states, as foreign ministers were unable to produce a communiqué at the end of their last meeting earlier this year.

The Indonesia-based Human Rights Working Group said that foreign ministers from ASEAN should return the draft to the regional inter-governmental rights body for revision, in order to make sure it complies with international human rights standards and principles

It also warned that the glaring holes in the draft would put ASEAN a bit closer to losing its credibility.

Choirul Anam, the deputy director of the working group, described the framework as it stands as containing a limitation on rights.

The draft has come under criticism from civil society groups in the region since the inter-governmental rights body reportedly patched it together after a second meeting with civil society groups in Manila on September 12.

Regional rights groups have taken issue with Article 8 of the draft, which limits freedoms under the laws of individual countries, and Article 7, which considers rights within the context of the political, cultural and religious sensitivities of member states.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, the working group’s senior adviser on ASEAN and human rights, said Article 6 also poses problems. It says individual rights must be balanced with a person’s responsibility to the community.

The draft has been criticised as it tends to align this with the security state, which subjugates human rights to what the government says are threats to national security.

“There is no such concept of balancing rights and responsibilities of individuals to others in an international human rights framework,” she said. “Human rights are indivisible, inherent, interdependent and interrelated.”

ASEAN is facing the problem of enshrining the rights standards of a diverse region where freedoms vary greatly among the member states.

The Union of Myanmar had been considered among the worst rights offenders in the world until recent reforms, while Vietnam recently confirmed its lack of freedom by sentencing three bloggers to long prison terms.

The victims include Nguyen Van Hai, a well known Vietnamese blogger who writes under the name of the Peasant’s Pipe, who was given 12 years jail followed by five years of house arrest.

Some advocate groups, including the Campaign Committee for Human Rights in Thailand, have said that the ASEAN framework as it stands would end up reversing rights in the region.


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