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Human Rights/Sanctions
July 28, 2007

Nations divided on rights commission, sanctions
Southeast Asian nations are unable to agree on setting up a human rights commission and on sanctions against members who flout a regional group's rules, Reuters quoted Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo as saying on July 28.

Newspaper reports have said some countries, including Myanmar, had opposed moves within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to set up a rights commission, decide issues by a vote rather than by consensus and provide for sanctions, Reuters reported.

Romulo, speaking after senior officials had completed the first draft of an ASEAN charter, said 90 percent of the document had been agreed upon but these three issues remained unresolved.

"It is very important to the Philippines that it is there," he told reporters, referring to the human rights commission. "The other one is voting other than by consensus."

"There is a universal declaration of human rights in the charter of the United Nations," Romulo said. "To the world it is a universal desire. I believe ASEAN can do no less."

Foreign ministers from the 10-member ASEAN meet in Manila from Sunday night (July 29) onwards to thrash out the charter and present it for adoption at a leaders' summit in November.

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 the European Union have particularly blamed the group for not bringing enough pressure on Myanmar's junta to end rights abuses and a crackdown 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 Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Brunei, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia joined later.

Ong Keng Yong, ASEAN's secretary-general, said the first draft of the charter did not contain provisions for sanctions.

"We believe we can get certain good results without having to threaten anyone with any sanctions," Ong told Reuters in an interview when asked if the document provided for punitive measures against wayward members such as Myanmar.

"There will be a fleshing out of issues that trouble ASEAN as an organisation," he said. "If ASEAN is undermined in any negative way, every one of us should pull together and deal with it."

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.

Ong said the charter would provide for contentious issues to be brought before heads of government for a quick decision on what do do. "Speed will be there and I will say decisiveness, one way or another," he said.

"We think this charter should embody the uniqueness of Southeast Asia. We do things by persuasion, we do things by building strength and cohesiveness from our diversity."

ASEAN also holds its annual security forum in Manila next week and Ong said the absence of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would not affect the meeting. John Negroponte, a deputy secretary of state, will be attending instead.

Seventeen partners are to join ASEAN at the meeting, including the United States, the European Union, Russia, China, Japan, the two Koreas, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand. Reuters


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