Leaders of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed a much-awaited human rights declaration on Sunday in an effort to boost the protection of basic freedoms in the region. But human rights activists quickly slammed the declaration.
In particular the fact that it says that human rights are not absolute and must consider reasons of security, public order and morality as well as the regional and national context.
The critics said that such a provision would allow several members of Asean, which include a diverse range of political systems — from authoritarian regimes in Laos and Vietnam, to monarchies such as Brunei, to half-hearted democracies, such as Singapore and Malaysia, to freewheeling democracies in the Philippines and Indonesia — to violate rights principles.
In the last minutes before the document was finalized, Indonesia and the Philippines wanted to add a paragraph requiring members to enforce the declaration with a level of commitment accorded to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“In applying this declaration, Asean will abide by, respect and apply universal human rights principles,” said Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, after the leaders signed off on the joint declaration.
He said the declaration was a historic breakthrough for the grouping as it would require members to uphold rights in political, economic and socio-cultural life for the region’s 600 million people. “It’s a legacy for our children,” said Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
But critics said it allowed too many loopholes. “Our worst fears in this process have now come to pass,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
In September, Indonesian activists attacked a draft of the document, expressing concern over its approach to the limitation of rights; indigenous people’s rights; the right to an impartial and independent judiciary; non-derogable rights; public morality; self-determination; and sexual and reproductive rights.
On Sunday, Southeast Asian leaders also discussed the ethnic violence in Myanmar, where clashes in Rakhine state between Muslims and Buddhists have left 180 people dead since June.
Asean secretary general Surin Pitsuwan told AFP on Sunday that the violence was disturbing and risked destabilizing the region. He said Asean leaders would discuss the bloodshed and potentially include a statement referring to it in their end-of-summit communique.
The Asean event will be expanded into a two-day East Asia Summit starting today to include the leaders of the United States, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.
US President Barack Obama is due to arrive in Phnom Penh today after making a historic visit to Myanmar.
Obama decided to make the trip to Myanmar, the first by a sitting US president, to reward and further encourage political developments by the new reformist government there.
Jakarta Globe, Nov 20, 2012 - Additional reporting from AFP