Making ASEAN work better – tweaking policy of non-interference with voting and sanctions?

Updated On: Jul 17, 2007

ASEAN’s effectiveness will be limited unless its policy of non-interference is changed.

This is evident particularly in the case of Myanmar according to the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. In his most recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, Mr Annan has added his voice to those calling for ASEAN to cast aside its non-interference policy when dealing with Myanmar. He pointed out that as members of the UN, the states had to accept responsibility for protecting their citizens, saying, “It means the government concerned has the responsibility to protect its citizens against gross and systematic violations of human rights and crime against humanity…… If it fails to do so or the government itself is responsible, the rest of the international community has the responsibility to step in.”

Changing ASEAN’s policy will be difficult.  As discussions over the draft ASEAN Charter continues, there is resistance from some ASEAN members to allowing penalties to be taken if members do not abide by ASEAN agreements. Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda pointed out, “In our view, the possibility for non-compliance measures should be opened although they will be used as a last resort. But it is really a sensitive issue for several members. We'll see in our negotiations if it is possible.”

One of the former ASEAN secretary-generals, Rodolfo Severino, has also urged for more unity within ASEAN saying, “ASEAN needs to be a little more cohesive so that it can take common positions on international and regional issues. And that would give greater credibility to the Association and they should empower the Secretary-General to speak for the Association more.”  He called for the strengthening of the ASEAN Secretariat to ensure compliance with agreements.

Despite the resistance to formal mechanism to ensure compliance and to interfere in one another’s matters, the ASEAN members have continued to cooperate on pertinent issues. Last week, high-ranking law enforcers from 10 ASEAN member countries and bioterrorism experts from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Criminal Police Organization, the Singapore Police Force and the Hong Kong Police met in BaliIndonesia to discuss how to tackle terrorism in the region.

Indonesian National Police chief of detectives Commander Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri said, “We cannot ignore the possibility that terrorists might use biological or chemical weapons, although they're now still using explosives and firearms.” The workshop is being held as a follow-up to the sixth ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime, which was held in Bali in June. It is also part of the measures included in the declaration between ASEAN and Canada on combating terrorism.

Preventing nuclear parts from falling into the wrong hands would be aided by the establishment of a Nuclear Monitoring Facility in Bukit IbamMalaysia. Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced this on 14 July. The facility will be managed by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) and will be used to make sure that nuclear energy use in the region is only for peaceful purposes.

Malaysian Science, Technology and Innovations Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis explained the rationale for having the monitoring facility, saying, “Countries in South-East Asia have plans to build nuclear reactors to generate electricity. Indonesia will commence its nuclear energy programme in 2016, Vietnam in 2018 and Thailand in 2021….. As such, this facility in Malaysia will help ensure there is no nuclear proliferation in the region.”  (16 July 2007)


ASEAN Should Strengthen Cohesiveness, Says Former Secretary-General (ChannelNewsAsia, 15 July 2007)

Critics Dismiss Attempts To Draft MyanmarConstitution (Dow Jones International News, 15 July 2007)

MyanmarA Thorn In Asean's Flesh (Today, 14 July 2007)

M'sia To Build First Nuclear Monitoring Facility In Asean (Bernama, 14 July 2007)

IndonesiaWants Voting, Sanctions In ASEAN Charter (Jakarta Post, 14 July 2007)

ASEAN Told To Prepare For Bioterrorism (Jakarta Post, 13 July 2007)