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ASEAN urged to rethink rights charter

Criticism of draft grows ahead of foreign ministers meeting at UN

  • Kerima Bulan T. Navales, Manila
  • Philippines
  • September 27, 2012
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A group working for the passage of a human rights charter for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has warned its flaws would be an embarrassment as the bloc’s foreign ministers were set to discuss the draft today on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Indonesia-based Human Rights Working Group said ASEAN foreign ministers should return the draft to the region’s inter-governmental rights body for revisions to make sure it complies with “international human rights standards and principles” while warning that flaws would “get ASEAN closer to losing its credibility.”

M. Choirul Anam, deputy director of the working group, said the framework as it stands contains “limitation of rights.”

Civil society groups in the region have criticized the draft after the inter-governmental rights body reportedly patched it together after a second meeting with civil society groups in Manila on September 12.

Regional rights groups have taken issue with Article 8 of the draft, which limits freedoms under the laws of individual countries, and Article 7, which considers rights within the context of the political, cultural and religious sensitivities of member states.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, the working group's senior advisor on ASEAN and human rights, said Article 6 also poses problems. It says individual rights must be balanced with a person's responsible to the community.

“There is no such concept of balancing rights and responsibilities of individuals to others in an international human rights framework,” she said. “Human rights are indivisible, inherent, interdependent and interrelated.”

ASEAN is facing the problem of enshrining the rights standards of a diverse region where freedoms vary greatly between countries.

Myanmar had been considered among the worst rights offenders in the world until recent reforms, while Vietnam this week confirmed its lack of freedoms by sentencing three bloggers to long prison terms including Nguyen Van Hai who was given 12 years in jail followed by five years of house arrest.

Some activist groups, including the Campaign Committee for Human Rights in Thailand, have said that the ASEAN framework as it stands would end up reversing rights in the region.

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