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40th Anniversary
August 7, 2007

ASEAN must care more about human rights
On its 40th anniversary, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must face new realities it did not have when it was born, the pressures of democracy and human rights, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said August 7.

Speaking before an ASEAN seminar to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the regional grouping, Yudhoyono said the glue that ties ASEAN members together is no longer just economic cooperation and socio-cultural exchange, Kyodo news reported.

"We are under a different set of pressures now," the president said. "All over the world, people want to take their destiny in their own hands, to take part in the making of decisions that affect their lives -- this is the pressure of democracy."

"People also want to assert the essential worth of their humanity. They demand the respect that they are human beings. This is the pressure of human rights," he said.

According to Yudhoyono, even the concept of security today has greatly broadened, which is no longer just a matter of defending the state against an army marching across its border, but also sharing commitment to defend democracy and human rights.

"If we are going to have an ASEAN that is a - community of caring societies, then it must care not only about the livelihood and the social amenities, but also about the fundamental rights of the human being," he said.

The president expressed his pleasure over a consensus reached by ASEAN foreign ministers during a meeting in Manila last week to mandate the provision of a human rights body as part of a Charter to strengthen ASEAN after overcoming resistance from Myanmar.

"Otherwise, the ASEAN Charter can not be regarded as the affirmation of a vision and a set of values and ideals that are the hallmark of a caring community," he said.

The region is a hodgepodge of political systems -- a military junta in Myanmar, socialist governments in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, a sultanate in Brunei, democratic governments in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia and to a lesser extent Singapore. Thailand has been under de facto military rule since the ouster of Thaksin Shinawatra's elected government last year.

A task force assigned to draft the charter will continue to work on the details and the final charter is expected to be adopted by ASEAN leaders at their Singapore summit in November.

In the Manila meeting, the ministers expressed concerns over the Myanmar junta's slow progress toward democracy and its continued detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

ASEAN, which depends heavily on foreign investment and trade with the United States and Europe, fears that Myanmar's intransigence will worsen its relations with the West.

"Social cohesiveness is important, because goodwill and a feeling of belonging an indispensable prelude to effective regional cooperation," Yudhoyono said.

"Economic cooperation is important. It is one way of ensuring that there is a daily bread on the family table. But the human being does not live by bread alone. He must also be assured of his human dignity, without which life is not worth living," he said.

ASEAN was established on August 8, 1967 in Bangkok by five countries -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.

The ASEAN region has a population of about 500 million, a combined gross domestic product of almost US$700 billion and total trade of about US$850 billion. Kyodo


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