Aug 2, 2007

[United SEA] An End to the Silence?

I've been tagged as a contributor for the United SEA blog for some time now. I admit I've been trying to get a feel for what direction the entries should be geared towards before getting into serious posting. I guess that time is more than up, eh?

The discussions centered around the 12th ASEAN summit seem a prime choice for discussion here, more so this year's summit given the controversies around the formation of a Human Rights body.

One of the biggest failings of the ASEAN, in my opinion, has been the standing policy of "non-interference" in the vaguely termed "internal affairs" of member countries. The policy seems so Asian in itself that we would rather allow whatever travesties to happen in fellow nations out of some sense of courtesy to the other. Under the banner of non-inteference we've seen the cases of the likes of Anwar Ibrahmim move along unchallenged or the continued imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar prison.

The consensus to create a human rights body is a tremendous move for the group and a very large step that will require a lot of changes, especially related to the non-interference policy that has so long protected the practice of human rights violations within the region.

The discussions came along in line with current discussions to revise the ASEAN charter before November of this year to redefine the organization and make it more akin to the European Union, which the group is now trying to emulate. This makes perfect sense given the mixed progress over the years with the ASEAN unable to really promote meaningful changes amongst the member nations as much as it would like to.

The debates around the formation of a human rights body were largely opposed, of course, by Myanmar given their own shady practices at times that have often been met with international outrage if not suspicion. Also affected are Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are all run by either authoritarian or single-party governments who may have some difficulty with dealing with a regional human rights body with its accompanying rules and regulations.

I'm in full support of this move by the Association - human rights should be protected regardless of nationality or personal beliefs since these are fundamental rights entitled to everyone. These should not be subject to the petty internal politics or the opinions of any one government. However in order for this body to be meaningful within the region, this will mean completely turning their backs on the older policy of non-interference. In place of this would be a greater sense of regional social responsibility driven by the need to care and be concerned about what is going on beyond one's own borders.

It's time we stop being silent about the abuses going on just next door - if we truly believe in human rights and how fundamental rights, then we defintely need to strike harder to get all thius one. Through this, I expect we'll benefit from having a stronger regional voice in the form of the ASEAN and its human rights body along wtih greater interdependence among member nations.

It's time we stepped up to the plate and really show everyone what this region is truly capable of and that it's not just about the US or the EU anymore. The ASEAN wants to sit at the big adults table now as a true global power to be respected and dealt with equitably as opposed to being a loose association of nations that gets little done if only in an effort not to offend one another.

It's a bold move and one that's long overdue. Let's hope that we get through the many changes involved leading to this next evoutionary step in the organization's path towards becoming much more than it is now.


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