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Doubts over Myanmar’s compliance delay process

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October 9, 2008

Asean Charter:
Indonesia’s ratification in the pipeline
Doubts over Myanmar’s compliance delay process

Indonesia is to sign up to a regional charter committing Southeast Asian nations to the principles of democracy and human rights despite doubts over its implementation, AFP quoted an official as saying Wednesday.

After lengthy debate the Asean charter should be ratified next week, foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said.

Indonesia is the last member of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that has not ratified the charter, after the Philippines signed up on Tuesday.

Faizasyah said the charter would strengthen the regional bloc, often dismissed as a talking shop which fails to confront human rights abuses in member countries like military-ruled Myanmar.

Myanmar's ratification earlier this year and the lack of any mechanism to sanction non-compliant members were among the reasons Indonesian lawmakers were slow to agree, he said.

"At first, we felt that if countries like Myanmar are not obliged to comply with what they sign, then ratifying the charter would be worthless," Faizasyah said.

"But Myanmar's ratification is progress. We're counting on Myanmar to gradually comply with the charter."

Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said that with the Philippines on board and Indonesia about to sign, the charter was well on its way to becoming a reality by the Asean summit in Bangkok in December.

"We now have just one more Member State -- Indonesia -- to go before the charter is fully ratified and I am very optimistic that we will get full ratification by the 14th Asean Summit in December," he said in a statement.

"In fact, I am fervently anticipating that we will be able to celebrate the entry into force of the Asean charter at the summit."

The charter requires Asean to uphold broad ideals of democracy and human rights and envisages the creation of a massive free trade zone by 2015.

But it lacks sanctions that can act as a deterrent against human rights abuses by rogue members such as Myanmar's military junta, human rights campaigner Rafendi Djamin said.

"For example, if there is a problem in Myanmar, like an allegation of human rights abuses, it becomes a political issue. For the charter to be effective, there needs to be a dispute settlement mechanism," he said.

Adreas Pareira, a lawmaker from the opposition Democratic Party for Struggle, said he hoped the charter would eventually include measures to guarantee human rights.

"We hope that the Indonesian government will struggle to make an amendment concerning this matter," he said.

"There must be a concrete measure to settle this but it's difficult due to the non-interference agreement among ASEAN members."

In the Philippines, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, who voted against the ratification, said the charter was a "sham" since it gave ASEAN no power to deal with rogue regimes like Myanmar's.

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