A proposed Southeast Asian human rights body is unlikely to be empowered to impose sanctions or take a tough approach to violators like Myanmar, human rights officials said Wednesday.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes military-ruled Myanmar, has been hailed for recently deciding to create a regional human rights body under a landmark charter that its heads of state were expected to sign in Singapore next month.
But ASEAN, noted for deciding issues by consensus and for not intervening in member countries’ domestic affairs, would not likely empower the rights body to take punitive actions on any erring member, Southeast Asian human rights officials said.

However, they stressed that ASEAN’s decision to set up the body after years of deliberations was a milestone worth praising.

“It has taken more than 10 years just to put it on paper – that’s already very positive,” said Simon Sipaun, vice chairman of Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission, on the sidelines of a regional human rights forum in Manila.

Sipaun said he was not optimistic that the proposed body could be established rapidly, or take tough actions against violators, considering many governments in the region “are not human rights friendly.”

In the 10-nation ASEAN, only Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand have established human rights commission to deal with concerns, with the rest seemingly not prioritizing such an important institution, he said.

Existing human rights institutions were at best advisory bodies. ASEAN’s proposed rights body would not likely have greater powers given the consensus that has to be reached by its diverse members, including Myanmar.

An official of Thailand’s Human Rights Commission, Khunying Ambhorn Meesok, doubted whether the proposed ASEAN body could even entertain complaints, saying it would likely be tasked mainly to set up policies, act as an advocate and initiate regional projects to promote human rights.

Philippine Human Rights Commissioner Purificacion Quisumbing said promoting human rights in a diverse region like Southeast Asia is a slow process that should not be rushed.

“Are you going to attack and intervene and send an army there? That’s not possible,” Quisumbing said.

Myanmar’s military junta said Wednesday it detained nearly 3,000 people during a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, adding that hundreds remain in custody and that it is still hunting for others.

At least 10 people were killed when troops fired into crowds of peaceful protesters last month.