ASEAN charter promotes human rights, democracy

USE IT OR LOSE IT: Although ASEAN was founded 40 years ago, the charter to be signed this month will codify the group's principles and rules for the first time


Sun, Nov 11, 2007 - Page 5

A landmark charter to be signed by Southeast Asian leaders this month seeks to promote human rights and democracy but doubts remain over how it can bring rogue members such as Myanmar into line.

A final pre-summit draft of the ASEAN charter drops proposed punitive measures and leaves it up to the 10-member group's leaders to decide what to do with errant members.

It is the first time ASEAN -- founded 40 years ago as an anti-communist bloc during the Cold War -- will codify its basic principles and organizational rules.

The ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta will be given more power and for the first time, there will be a human-rights body.

Leaders of member countries are scheduled to sign the charter during their summit in Singapore on Nov. 20.

It commits ASEAN members "to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms."

It also requires members to keep the region free of nuclear weapons, ease poverty, protect the environment and work toward an integrated market that allows for free flow of goods, services, investments and professionals.

Leaders will hold summits twice a year instead of once, and the role of the Jakarta-based secretariat and the group's secretary-general will be strengthened.

Founded on Aug. 8, 1967 in Bangkok, ASEAN was established through a declaration by founding members Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

As such, many commitments and decisions are currently not legally binding, and the charter seeks to turn ASEAN into a rules-based organization like the EU.

A regional analyst said it remained to be seen whether the charter will be implemented in earnest.

"The content of the charter is likely to be impressive, especially because ASEAN's international legitimacy and reputation are very important," said Hiro Katsumata of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

"But this does not mean that some of the provisions of the charter will be implemented, especially in relation to human rights and democracy in Myanmar," he said.

"It will be a paper tiger if they do not use it," he said.