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Published on November 19th, 2012 | by Irving Feng

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South East Asian Countries Move to Adopt Human Rights Declaration Despite Protest From Activists

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have committed to signing the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration to combat the rampant disregard for basic human rights in the region.

Cambodian rights activists protest the summit in Phnom Penh. (Courtesy of the Philippine Star)

Despite strong protest from rights groups that say the declaration adopted by ASEAN falls short of international standards on human rights, the countries plan to move forward with the adoption of the declaration.

The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration will not be legally binding and currently contain certain loopholes that allow the nations who sign it into “law” to escape penalty.  The document declares all citizens of the nations who sign the declaration into effect are entitled to equal protection under the law.

The declaration also provides special protection to marginalized groups such as women, minorities, disabled persons, and displaced migrants.  These groups are said to have certain “inalienable rights and freedoms” under the proposed human rights declaration.

Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN Secretary General, has touted the declaration as representation progress in the realm of human rights for many of the ASEAN members.  However, Pitsuwan also acknowledges that inherent weaknesses exist within the declaration.

Deputy Director for Human Rights Watch Asia, Phil Robertson, has condemned the declaration, calling it an “ASEAN human rights feel-good show.”  Robertson believes that the declaration is nothing more than a “public relations game” to improve ASEAN members’ international perception because the human rights abuses in this area of the world have been so prevalent.

Vietnam has been guilty of imprisoning internet bloggers because of their criticisms of the Communist government’s policies.  Cambodia, the host for the declaration summit, has also been host to over 300 politically motivated killings in the past two decades alone.

Because the declarations are not binding, the provisions essentially have no weight in the context of improving human rights for citizens of these countries.  There are event specific omissions that show that this declaration is weightless such as the Muslim majority in Malaysia lobbying for gay rights to be omitted from the final draft of the declaration.

President Barak Obama of the United States is slated to visit the region, specifically Myanmar, to address these failures in adhering to the minimum international standards on human rights.  The president is under immense pressure by rights groups to persuade the region to raise their standards on human rights.

ASEAN members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.  All member countries have struggled with promoting basic human rights and have all been guilty of violating international standards in recent history.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Calls mount to scrap ASEAN human rights plan – 17 November 2012

The Philippine Star – Territorial disputes, human rights top Asia summit – 17 November 2012

Reuters – Southeast Asia to adopt human rights platform; condemned by activists – 17 November 2012

The Washington Post – Southeast Asian leaders plan to adopt human rights declaration despite calls for delay – 15 November 2012


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