Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Asean unanimous to setting up human rights body

Asean unanimous to setting up human rights body

Tuesday, 31 July 2007, 08:12am

©The Star (Used by permission)
by Mergawati Zulfakar and Lisa Goh

At the end of the day, the Asean comradeship and way of doing things won - all member countries agreed to the establishment of a human rights body.

And that was not all.

The foreign ministers also reached some kind of consensus on other matters including changing the way Asean reaches its decisions, membership criteria and legitimacy of decisions made in the absence of a member.

None of the ministers wanted to say how Myanmar, with its dismal human rights record, and the newer Asean members agreed to the setting up of the human rights body, a sensitive issue that had divided the group over the years.

The body is part of the landmark Asean Charter, now in its drafting stage, to be adopted by Asean leaders at their summit in Singapore.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said the ministers agreed to the inclusion of a provision in the Charter that mandated the creation of a human rights body.

“We have instructed the High Level Task Force (HLTF) to include this provision in the draft Charter,” he told reporters after the Asean ministers retreat here yesterday.

The HLTF, comprising senior officials and veteran diplomats, had been unable to agree on several issues including human rights and decided to let the ministers deliberate on them.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said the next step was working out the terms of reference of the body.

His Singapore counterpart, George Yeo, said Myanmar had “a positive attitude” towards the body, concurring with Syed Hamid that the terms of reference and other specifics would be done soon.

On revamping the Asean consensus method that will also be part of the Charter, Syed Hamid said the foreign ministers agreed that if decisions could not be reached at their level, it would be referred to the leaders.

As for the Asean membership criteria, the ministers agreed it would not be opened automatically to any country in Southeast Asia.

The ministers also agreed that if an Asean member was not present, it was still bound by whatever decisions made.

Syed Hamid was confident that the Charter would be ready by September.

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