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Ministerial Meeting
July 29, 2007

Draft charter leaves out rights body
Southeast Asian diplomats have completed the first draft of a landmark charter, but left out a provision creating a human rights body, a senior official said on July 29, Reuters reported.

Diplomats from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) task force drafting the charter also agreed to keep the bloc's traditional way of deciding issues through a consensus.

The first draft, a copy of which was shown to Reuters, made no mention of sanctions for member states guilty of serious violations of the ASEAN charter.

"We've done our part," the diplomat, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak for the task force, told Reuters. "We're leaving it to our ministers to decide on how to deal with the creation of a human rights mechanism."

For decades, ASEAN has been derided by the West because of its reluctance to get involved in the internal affairs of member countries and its commitment to decide issues only by consensus.

The United States and European Union have particularly blamed the group for not bringing enough pressure on Myanmar's military rulers to end rights abuses and crack down on the opposition.

Older members of the group, including founder members Malaysia and the Philippines, have expressed concern that the image of ASEAN as a whole has taken a beating because of Myanmar.

ASEAN's other founder members are Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam joined later.

ASEAN foreign ministers were due to discuss at length the proposed charter after the task force submits the first draft on Monday, at the opening of a two-day meeting in Manila.

"The ministers have all the reason, mandate and competence to come up, to study and to consider a very important document as the charter on their own," said Claro Cristobal, spokesman for the Philippine foreign affairs department.

"This is a very important document, as I said, it has the potential of binding half a billion peoples' lives." An ASEAN charter is seen as a milestone for the bloc because it would create a rules-based community.

Until now it has operated without a constitution, choosing to rely on informal diplomacy and decision-making by consensus. But many leaders believe a charter is necessary to help the group speed up economic integration.

An ASEAN task forces has been working for about a week to complete the first draft for discussion by at Monday's 40th ministerial meeting, which will endorse it for adoption at a leaders' summit in November.

"Today, tonight and tomorrow is not the deadline for the high level task force to complete their work," Cristobal said. "They will continue to exist until such time as they have completed the mandate they receive from the leaders."

The task force has scheduled meetings next month and in September to finish their job before the 13th ASEAN leaders' summit in Singapore.

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