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Toothless ASEAN ?

Updated On: Mar 30, 2007

The former Philippine diplomat, Rosario Manalo who is the head of the High Level Task Force responsible for drafting the ASEAN Charter, has admitted that one of the most important proposals for inclusion in the Charter would be dropped.

The provision for sanction or even the expulsion of member was one proposed by the ASEAN Eminent Persons Group to give ASEAN more teeth.

"It is divisive, confrontational and we don't want any provision that would embarrass any member state," Manalo told The Associated Press in an interview. She explained that the foreign ministers had turned down the proposed sanction in the annual retreat held in Cambodia earlier in March. Paradoxically, she expressed confidence that even without the sanctions, ASEAN members would follow the Charter because it was legally binding.

As the proposal for sanction is largely understood to be directed primarily at Myanmar, the removal of the provision is likely to seen to be a failure by ASEAN on handling MyanmarMyanmar has consistently failed to fulfill its promise to restore democratic rule and free political prisoners. Without any ASEAN would also lose the golden opportunity to add some bite to its agreements, which are likely to remain symbolic political agreements than legally binding ones.

The Charter is expected to be ready for the leaders' signing at the ASEAN summit to be held at the end of this year. "Our credibility would be badly affected if we cannot produce a charter," said Asean Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong. Unfortunately, it seems that the desire for political expediency has shadowed the longer term necessity for a stronger Charter.

Despite the failure to include the provision for sanction, another provision seems likely to be accepted- the human rights provisions. Manalo stressed that the human rights provision should not be read as targeting Myanmar. "All of us are violating human rights," Manalo said. "We're putting it there because we want our governments to respect it."  In addition, the issue of establishing a regional human rights mechanism is also being looked into.

The inclusion of human rights provision and establishing a regional human rights mechanism in the Charter is likely to placate, somewhat, non-governmental organizations who have been urging the task force to ensure guarantees for human rights and civil liberties. About 60 members from various civil society groups in ASEAN met the High Level Task Force in Thailand recently to suggest other inputs. Some of the inputs included, a new environmental community, stopping the use of the term "terrorism", establishment of a Youth Foundation, rectification of international norms on human rights and building on agrarian societies. Manalo made clear, unsurprisingly, that there was "no commitment" that the suggestions would be adopted.

An editorial in The Nation interestingly alleged that Myanmar would try during the charter drafting process to dilute the attempts to make ASEAN more democratic and friendly towards civil society organizations.  It further added that Thailand’s call for a more people-oriented ASEAN and for an ASEAN human rights commission has met with fierce objections from Myanmar. Highlighting the increasing dire situation in Myanmar, the editorial also called for the international community to continue its pressure on the “pariah state” for reforms.

Now that the provision for sanction in the ASEAN Charter is rejected, the issue over Myanmar in ASEAN’s relations with its external partners is likely to remain thorny and difficult.  Without the power to sanction, ASEAN will remain toothless and the Charter yet another diluted document of wishlist rather than one of rights and obligations.   (29 March 2007).

Sources:

ASEAN Decides to Kiss Its Teeth Goodbye (Today, 28 March 2007)

Little Commitment To New Ideas (The Nation, 28 March 2007)

DJ: 2nd Update: Proposed ASEAN Charter Sanctions Dropped- Diplomat (Dow Jones Commodities Services, 27 March 2007)

ASEAN ponders establishing human rights mechanism (Straits Times Interactive, 29 March 2007)

The former Philippine diplomat, Rosario Manalo who is the head of the High Level Task Force responsible for drafting the ASEAN Charter, has admitted that one of the most important proposals for inclusion in the Charter would be dropped.

Editorial: Burma’s horrors continued unabated (The Nation, 29 March 2007)

The provision for sanction or even the expulsion of member was one proposed by the ASEAN Eminent Persons Group to give ASEAN more teeth.

"It is divisive, confrontational and we don't want any provision that would embarrass any member state," Manalo told The Associated Press in an interview. She explained that the foreign ministers had turned down the proposed sanction in the annual retreat held in Cambodia earlier in March. Paradoxically, she expressed confidence that even without the sanctions, ASEAN members would follow the Charter because it was legally binding.

As the proposal for sanction is largely understood to be directed primarily at Myanmar, the removal of the provision is likely to seen to be a failure by ASEAN on handling MyanmarMyanmar has consistently failed to fulfill its promise to restore democratic rule and free political prisoners. Without any ASEAN would also lose the golden opportunity to add some bite to its agreements, which are likely to remain symbolic political agreements than legally binding ones.

The Charter is expected to be ready for the leaders' signing at the ASEAN summit to be held at the end of this year. "Our credibility would be badly affected if we cannot produce a charter," said Asean Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong. Unfortunately, it seems that the desire for political expediency has shadowed the longer term necessity for a stronger Charter.

Despite the failure to include the provision for sanction, another provision seems likely to be accepted- the human rights provisions. Manalo stressed that the human rights provision should not be read as targeting Myanmar. "All of us are violating human rights," Manalo said. "We're putting it there because we want our governments to respect it."  In addition, the issue of establishing a regional human rights mechanism is also being looked into.

The inclusion of human rights provision and establishing a regional human rights mechanism in the Charter is likely to placate, somewhat, non-governmental organizations who have been urging the task force to ensure guarantees for human rights and civil liberties. About 60 members from various civil society groups in ASEAN met the High Level Task Force in Thailand recently to suggest other inputs. Some of the inputs included, a new environmental community, stopping the use of the term "terrorism", establishment of a Youth Foundation, rectification of international norms on human rights and building on agrarian societies. Manalo made clear, unsurprisingly, that there was "no commitment" that the suggestions would be adopted.

An editorial in The Nation interestingly alleged that Myanmar would try during the charter drafting process to dilute the attempts to make ASEAN more democratic and friendly towards civil society organizations.  It further added that Thailand’s call for a more people-oriented ASEAN and for an ASEAN human rights commission has met with fierce objections from Myanmar. Highlighting the increasing dire situation in Myanmar, the editorial also called for the international community to continue its pressure on the “pariah state” for reforms.

Now that the provision for sanction in the ASEAN Charter is rejected, the issue over Myanmar in ASEAN’s relations with its external partners is likely to remain thorny and difficult.  Without the power to sanction, ASEAN will remain toothless and the Charter yet another diluted document of wishlist rather than one of rights and obligations.   (29 March 2007).

Sources:

ASEAN Decides to Kiss Its Teeth Goodbye (Today, 28 March 2007)

Little Commitment To New Ideas (The Nation, 28 March 2007)

DJ: 2nd Update: Proposed ASEAN Charter Sanctions Dropped- Diplomat (Dow Jones Commodities Services, 27 March 2007)

ASEAN ponders establishing human rights mechanism (Straits Times Interactive, 29 March 2007)

Editorial: Burma’s horrors continued unabated (The Nation, 29 March 2007)







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