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Ministerial Meeting
July 30, 2007

ASEAN to Set Up Human Rights Commission
Southeast Asian foreign ministers agreed Monday to set up a regional human rights commission, overcoming fierce resistance from military-ruled Myanmar, the Associated Press reported.

A charter being drafted for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations will include a provision mandating the creation of the human rights body, officials said.

"We have agreed that there will be a human rights body," Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said after the ministers met for four hours to discuss the draft. "There was a consensus."

Yeo said details will be settled later but that the foreign ministers hoped to have everything worked out by the time that ASEAN leaders hold their annual summit in November, when they plan to approve the charter.

"I'm very optimistic," Yeo said. Asked about Myanmar's resistance and reaction to the agreement, he said: "I think Myanmar takes a positive attitude toward all these developments."

Myanmar is widely accused of human rights violations and continues to hold Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. Details of the agreement were not immediately available. Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam had suggested earlier that they were not ready for the immediate establishment of such a body, and ASEAN members might be allowed to join the commission at a later date.

Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam - ASEAN's most recent members - all have authoritarian or single-party governments.

The Philippines had pressed strongly for an ASEAN rights body, with Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo saying it would give the bloc "more credibility in the international community."

"I would say most of the ASEAN countries were in favor of this from the very beginning. We had to agree on this, we had to get a consensus. Now we have the consensus," he said.

Some ASEAN countries fear any scrutiny of their human rights, and the group has traditionally held to a cardinal policy of noninterference in each other's affairs. Human rights groups complain that this noninterference principle fostered undemocratic governments in the region.

From Cold War-era protagonists, ASEAN's members have evolved into a solid bloc that is now negotiating free trade accords with wealthier neighbors and spearheading Asia's largest security forum, she said. AP

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