ASEAN human rights body gets off to rocky start


Cha-am (Thailand) : Efforts to set up a human rights body for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) got off to a bad start Saturday with Myanmar and Cambodia blocking their civil society representatives from attending the talks.

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The 14th ASEAN Summit being held in Cha-am, 130 km southwest of Bangkok, has been billed as the most “inclusive” meeting of the 42-year-old South-East Asian grouping to date.

The summit kicked off Saturday morning with a series of talks between ASEAN leaders and representatives of civil society, MPs, youth organisations and the business community.

The more inclusive nature of the summit is in keeping with the ASEAN Charter, approved last year, which seeks to make ASEAN a more people-oriented organisation and acknowledges the importance of protecting human rights in the region.

“Eventually, we want to be an inclusive ASEAN, an engaged ASEAN, a compassionate, sharing and caring ASEAN,” ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said of the summit’s goals.

But Myanmar’s and Cambodia’s decision not to send their representatives, Khin Ohmar from Myanmar and Pen Somony from Cambodia, to the talks has undermined the spirit of inclusiveness the ASEAN secretary general might have hoped to achieved.

“We were expecting the move from Myanmar but for the Cambodians to do this is very surprising,” said Yuyun Wahguningrum, a civil society representative from the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

ASEAN consists of 10 countires – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – that are at very different levels of economic and political development.