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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    7 May 2012

Asean needs majority rules

7 May 2012

Southeast Asian governments should ease up on their principle of non-interference when it comes to human rights violations happening in other countries in the region, a leading statesman says.

“There is a need for majority rules [in Asean], especially if it has to do with human rights violations,” Fidel Ramos, the former Philippine president, said in a recent interview at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta.

Although the principle of non-interference is still applicable in some issues, Ramos said Asean countries could not turn a blind eye to human rights violations in other member states and could ask the country in question to launch an investigation.

He added that such a move should not be interpreted as meddling in another country’s domestic affairs, especially now that Asean had its own human rights commission, the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which was established based on Article 14 in the Asean Charter.

“We have to abide by the rule of law, under the new charter,” he said, adding that the majority rule served as a higher role that applied to member states, although the non-interference norm was still applicable in Asean “because it works for us.”

Ramos also addressed the recent move toward democratic reform in Burma, calling it a “big breakthrough in Asean” and saying President Thein Sein, a former general, should be commended.

“That’s progress. They should recognize now the world is different now from the world 20 years ago,” Ramos said.

With such developments in the region, he said he was optimistic that Asean was on its way to becoming a regional power, given its strategic geographical position as one of the busiest shipping lanes for oil tankers from the Middle East to East Asia.

Ramos also said he believed that through Asean, there could be peace in the resource-rich South China Sea, which has been at the center of a decade-long dispute on overlapping claims made by Asean member states, including the Philippines, and the region’s giant neighbor, China.

The Philippines and China have been at a standoff since April 8 when the Philippine Navy monitored eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored inside the Scarborough Shoal for poaching. The ring-shaped coral reef, which China also lays claim to, is about 124 nautical miles west of the Philippines’ main Luzon Island.

“We cannot afford to have any shootings [in the South China Sea] because the others will also come in to shoot,” Ramos said. “One shot, everybody suffers. [It is] better with no conflict and no shooting.”

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