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Civil society sceptical of ASEAN rights charter

The 14th ASEAN summit begins this Friday in the Thai sea side town of Hua Hin.

On the agenda will be the ASEAN Charter which was adopted last December. The charter turns the Association of Southeast Asian Nations into a legal entity and to create a single free-trade region, encompassing 500 million people. It also proposes a human rights body to be discussed at this summit.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Yap Swee Seng Executive Director of human rights organisation Forum Asia

YAP: The mood of the forum was upbeat and of course people are hoping that the coming ASEAN summit will address some of the main concerns of the people in the region, especially economic crisis and financial crisis and climate crisis that is coming, hitting the region.

LAM: So did your forum look at the ASEAN charter at all?

YAP: Yes the forum looked into the charter as well because the charter was recently adopted by ASEAN and a lot of people are of course hopeful but also a lot of people are sceptical.

LAM: Is this because you believe that the charter is going to have limited effectiveness?

YAP: Well the charter, it talks about promotion and protection of human rights which is one of the main things that is welcomed by civil society, but at the same time civil society also noticed that the principle of non-interference of ASEAN is also being encoded into the charter, and so people are really sceptical about whether this charter will be able to implement or realise the protection and promotion of human rights.

LAM: So you do see that as a huge stumbling block this principle of non-interference, but did you discuss trying to persuade the various members of ASEAN to perhaps alter that culture of non-interference?

YAP: Well I think it would be very difficult because there are many countries in ASEAN that are resisting foreign interference into domestic affairs of their countries, and the principle of non-interference would be invoked if there is any attempt by any country or even civil society in demanding that certain issues such as human rights or humanitarian crisis being addressed.

LAM: But Yap Swee Seng the Thai Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya and also the ASEAN Secretary General, Surin Pitsuwan both addressed the people's forum, what was their message to you?

YAP: Well their message is basically they are portraying that they are being open to civil society and willing to listen to the issues of the people, but also at the same time Surin Pitsuwan was asking that the civil society should come forward to work together with the ASEAN governments and they should not only blame governments because according to him that ASEAN and the government are now providing space for the civil society to address those issues.

Additional Information

Country: Thailand
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When: 26/2/2009

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