Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers officially signed off on plans Monday to set up a human rights commission at a meeting of the regional organization. The decision creates the region’s first human rights body, but some supporters and human rights groups are disappointed over the severe limitations placed on it.
“There are a few countries in ASEAN that are among the most repressive in Asia, if not the world. I could never see how this group could ever agree on anything with teeth,” Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director told the Financial Times.
Since some members objected to the idea of the commission, the new body’s scope will initially be limited to raising awareness of human rights issues, with no mandate to investigate or monitor human rights in any of the member states.
Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, in a tacit acknowledgement of the lingering disappointment, said the agreement represents the greatest consensus currently possible and should be viewed as “a legal document that would provide an evolutionary framework for further measures for the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Some ASEAN members states — which include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar — have very patchy human rights records.
Indonesia led a last-minute charge by some members to strengthen the formal agreement, arguing that promotion of human rights does not equal protection. Several ministers and delegates indicated that little more tangible progress is realistic without significant changes in Myanmar, the region’s rights laggard, and urged the ruling junta to endorse reform.