Mon 30 Jul 2007
Filed under: ASEAN,News
Disagreements over the creation of a human rights body and decision-making by voting have hobbled the drafting of a proposed charter of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), officials said.
A high-level task force making the first draft worked overtime on Saturday to settle differences on the charter, which was expected to be submitted to ASEAN foreign ministers during their meeting on
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, who would chair the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, said he was optimistic that the disagreements would be resolved.
“I’ve been told that 90 per cent (of the first draft) has been agreed upon and that the 10 per cent is the portion that they probably have to work out,” he told a news conference. “I am optimistic that at the end, we will all agree.”
Romulo said the creation of a human rights body and decision- making by voting were the top issues that still have to be resolved.
According to diplomats, some ASEAN members, such as Myanmar, have objected to the inclusion of a human rights commission in the landmark charter.
The Philippines has led more liberal members in pushing for the commission, stressing that ASEAN must take steps to show the international community that it was dealing with human rights concerns.
“To the world it’s a universal desire that there must be a human rights commission and I believe that the ASEAN can do no less,” Romulo said.
Diplomats have noted that some ASEAN members were wary of any mention of a human rights commission in the proposed charter as it would open up the doors for intervention on internal matters, violating the group’s cardinal policy of non-interference.
Another long-time principle of the ASEAN that is under scrutiny is its policy of consensus, which has become tedious and has hampered fast decision-making by the group.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Founded in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War and Cold War, the regional bloc provided newly independent states in South-East Asia a forum to engage each other and to deal with other powers as a single entity.
ASEAN played a key role strengthening the trust among the highly diverse people and governments in the region, as well strengthened cultural, economic and economic ties.
Its non-interference policy to internal affairs of member countries and consensus-based approach worked well in maintaining the cohesiveness of the organization during the Cold War.
But in January, ASEAN leaders signed a blueprint for a charter that would transform it into a rules-based organization, improve its decision-making process and set up a legal framework to restructure its existing mechanism.
Romulo said the ASEAN foreign ministers intend to submit a final draft of the proposed charter to ASEAN leaders during their 13th summit in Singapore in November.
Analysts have said that the adoption of a legally binding charter will make the ASEAN more effective and efficient in terms of delivering its decision on key issues.
Former Philippine president Fidel Ramos, a member of the Eminent Persons Group that developed the blueprint for the proposed ASEAN charter, had warned that unless ASEAN takes bold changes in its traditional ways, its relevance might be diminished.
“Although ASEAN is one of the most successful regional organizations today, there is no guarantee that it can maintain its relevance in the coming decades and remain an driving force in regional cooperation,” he said.