Asean a mere shadow of EU as long as it ignores human rights

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2009, 12:00am

The leaders of Asean have been accused of hypocrisy when it comes to substantive and procedural human rights issues involving its member states, especially Burma (Myanmar).

At their weekend summit in Thailand, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders bragged before the international media about some day being like the European Union in content, structure, vision, and aspirations. It is hard to take that dream seriously and it is an effort to sanitise the region's poor human rights record.

I still have to wait and see how Asean's newly-inaugurated human rights commission will turn out in terms of its structure, composition, and operations ('Southeast Asia's first rights panel blasted at onset', October 24). Will it be transparent and accountable and will its members display the necessary moral courage, and commitment to the enforcement of the universal precepts of human rights in the region?

It will need at least five years to achieve its goals. The commission must be strictly monitored by the world, especially by human rights advocates and lawyers in the region.

A wire service news report that I read said that Asean leaders barely mentioned Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi at the weekend summit, making a mockery of the region's grand claims for its new rights body.

Leaders of the 10 states comprising Asean, including Burma, devoted just three lines to the military-ruled nation's political situation in the nine pages of their final declaration.

While the statement called for elections promised by the junta in 2010 to be 'fair, free, inclusive and transparent,' it made no mention of the opposition leader, who has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years.

Given the lack of action over Burma, human rights activists have derided the organisation's new human rights body.

The problem with Asean is that it is prevented from applying any real pressure on the military regime in Burma because of the association's long-standing policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs.

Burma's ruling generals led by General Than Shwe have abused this policy for a long time. The United States seems to have caved in, too, because it now wants to re-engage the isolated regime after decades of hostility, thus, reducing the pressure on Asean to push for reform in Burma.

Citizens of the nations which are members of Asean must stop fooling each other.

Asean states, especially the Philippines, have been reluctant to admonish Burma.

This is because they themselves face their own human rights issues, for example, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, prolonged preventive detentions without judicial intervention, and failure to prosecute abusive and corrupt military and police officers and the political, drug, and gambling lords who fund them.

Manuel J. Laserna Jr, Las Pines City, the Philippines