13 May 2008

Thoughts for ASEAN's rights body

By Jonny Sinaga

From a human rights perspective, ASEAN has moved to a higher ground by signing the ASEAN Charter on Nov. 20, 2007. The charter includes a provision on the establishment of the ASEAN human rights body (AHRB).While welcoming this positive development, there are some factors to be considered in order to guarantee the new body will be useful and have a positive impact on the ASEAN Economic Community, to be formed by 2015.

It goes without saying the issue of human rights is universally important, yet it must be acknowledged that around the world it has been implemented in different, sometimes controversial, ways. To minimize unnecessary complications, there is much to be considered before forming the body.

The ASEAN community must establish the body based on its own common and shared principles and values.

ASEAN member countries has indeed many shared values. Historically, the human rights of most of these countries have at some point been denied by other powers. During difficult colonial times, people in Southeast Asia by and large suffered from all gross violations of human rights: civil, political, social, economic and cultural. Freedom of expression was denied, freedom from torture was rejected and the right to self-determination was also violated.

In this regard, it is still relevant to refer to Ernest Renan of France, who, in his lecture at Sorbonne on March 11, 1882, entitled Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? (What is a Nation?), stated "A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present."

Renan continued "One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form."

Citizens of ASEAN member countries felt the same during colonial times.

In reality, the implementation of human rights in all 10 ASEAN member countries might differ, for example, only four countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand) have national human rights commissions. However, we shall not assume the other six countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, and Vietnam) do not respect human rights.

The AHRB must be able to assure all human rights will not be denied; this is much more important than debating sanctions against those who violate human rights.

The notion that human rights are from the West must be totally abandoned. ASEAN member countries have long recognized the idea of human rights, not only during the colonial era, but long before it. It is recognized in Hindu, Islamic, Christian and Buddhist teachings across ASEAN's territory.

ASEAN should learn from other bodies, like the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, the Commission of Human Rights and its replacement, the Human Rights Council. The politicization of human rights will only create more problems, instead of solving them.

The focus of the AHRB should be on the promotion of human rights in ASEAN region so all people will have their human rights well-protected.

ASEAN should express to the world that indeed the issue of human rights is not only important, but can be openly and objectively discussed to improve the lives all people in ASEAN member countries.

The writer is a human rights observer and graduate from Tulane Law University, New Orleans, and is an ASEAN citizen. The views expressed are the author's only. Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/05/12/thoughts-asean039s-rights-body.html

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