Thursday, August 09, 2007

ASEAN and the problem of human rights in Myanmar

The following article by Mong Palatino caught my eye on the recent moves by ASEAN to strengthen its compliance regime for the observance of democratic and human rights principles by member countries. One of the perennial problems of regional compliance mechanisms is getting recalcitrant states to take criticism seriously when other member countries have failed to put their own house in order:

"One of the achievements of the forum was the drafting of an ASEAN Charter which will be finalized this year. The draft Charter affirms the group's adherence to democracy by rejecting unconstitutional means of changing governments. It also includes a provision for the creation of a Human Rights Commission in the region.

Some analysts described the draft Charter as 'toothless' since member countries can choose to ignore some of the democratic commitments contained in the document. ASEAN will continue to forge decisions and resolutions through consensus and not through voting. A government official argued that consensus-building is the "ASEAN way of doing things."

This means ASEAN will still be unable to discipline its own ranks since a recalcitrant member nation can easily prevent the building of consensus. An example of this failure, which remains a controversial issue within the group, is its inability to sanction Myanmar over its dismal human rights record.

The United States, while praising ASEAN's commitment to uphold democratic values, also expressed disappointment over the failure of Myanmar's ruling military junta to respect and protect human rights. Other nations have similar appeals, saying Myanmar should hasten democratic reforms.

Indeed, Myanmar's government is guilty of committing human rights violations. But Myanmar is not the only human rights violator in the region. It may be ASEAN's problem child, but governments of other member countries are also notorious bullies and human rights offenders.

If Myanmar were asked to explain the continued detention of pro-democracy leaders, it can always retort by inquiring about the torture of suspects in Indonesia, the crackdown on bloggers in Malaysia, censorship in Thailand and killings with impunity in the Philippines...

ASEAN member countries have lost the moral ascendancy to preach respect for human rights. This is the legacy of ASEAN, forty years after it was created."

I can think of another country that has failed to comply with international human rights obligations, and whose reputation on the international stage as an advocate for human rights has been seriously compromised in the process.

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