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Ministerial Meeting
July 31, 2007

Human rights plan hits snag
South-East Asian nations face tougher negotiations on the timeframe, scope of work and other details of a regional human rights body they had agreed to form under a proposed charter, German news agency DPA quoted Malaysia's foreign minister as saying in Manila July 31.

Foreign ministers of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed on Monday to form the body despite initial objections by Myanmar, which has been highly criticized for its dismal human rights record.

But the 10-member regional bloc has not reached consensus on when the body would be formed, what scope of work it would have and other details on the setting up of the mechanism.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said he does not expect discussions for the setting up of the human rights body to be easy, but stressed that ASEAN has already taken an important first step.

"From the start, we thought it's going to be a very thorny issue, a difficult issue," he told a press conference in Manila where annual ASEAN ministerial meetings are being held. "But ASEAN has to move to the new world. It cannot stay at the old line and keep on putting barriers and obstacles and excuses."

"This is the first step," he added. "The next step is getting it formed. Let us cross the bridge when we come to it. I'm not saying that it is easy."

Albar said that despite initial objections by Myanmar, the foreign ministers agreed that ASEAN had to include an enabling provision in its proposed charter for the creation of a human rights body to boost its credibility.

"At the end of the day, we must be seen not to be allergic or not supportive of human rights," he said. "If for any reason, the human rights provision is not in the charter, then people will think ASEAN is not pro-human rights and that is nonsense."

"We are for human rights, we are for civil liberties, we want to see democracy, we want to see rule of law, we want to see good governance," he added.

Albar noted that while everyone in ASEAN support the protection of human rights, "there are some fears" that the issue is "being used as a political instrument.

"We need to allay those fears about how it should be," he said.

The enabling provision of the human rights body has been the most controversial issue in the proposed charter of the ASEAN, which groups Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Albar said the target for the completion of the draft of the charter was in November at the 13th leaders' summit in Singapore.

"Our target is the November meeting as the date when the leaders will approve the charter," he said. "There is a lot of hope and expectation that we should be able to complete it. The rest of it is just a question of formulation and semantics." DPA


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