Southeast Asian officials yesterday praised the creation of a regional human rights body as a historic first step toward confronting abuses, but the body will lack the power to investigate or punish violators like military-ruled Myanmar.
A confidential document obtained by The Associated Press said the rights body, which the 10-nation ASEAN hopes to form later this year, would “promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms” in the region but would abide by the bloc’s bedrock policy of not interfering in members’ internal affairs.
The document, which outlines the proposed powers of the rights body, falls short of key demands voiced by international human rights groups, which say the body will have limited effectiveness unless it can impose sanctions or expel countries that violate the rights of their own citizens.
The document was presented behind closed-doors to ASEAN foreign ministers gathered at a coastal resort in Thailand ahead of an annual leaders’ summit this weekend. It is a first draft for the body’s proposed powers, with a final draft expected in July before the body is created.
The issues of democratic reform in Myanmar and human rights abuses will be discussed on the sidelines.
Rosario Manalo, a Philippine diplomat on the panel drafting the human rights body’s outline, said the plans mark efforts of the region to move toward democracy.
“It is a historic first for Southeast Asia,” he said.
Officials said the powers of the human rights body could evolve over time.
“Investigative powers should not be ruled out. We’ll take it step by step,” said Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Thailand’s chairman of the drafting committee. “We have to go as far as we can but at the same time we have to be realistic.”
The confidential document said the human rights body would follow the principles of “noninterference in the internal affairs of ASEAN member states” and any of the group’s decisions “shall be based on consultation and consensus,” giving Myanmar and other violators veto power to block decisions.