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Wednesday, July 11, 2012
ON SUNDAY, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) said it would release "key elements" of a proposed human rights declaration after several international rights watchdogs slammed the secrecy surrounding the document.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups had earlier warned the 10 Asean foreign ministers the proposed human rights declaration could fall below global standards if the wider public was left out of the consultations, which had been "mainly conducted behind closed doors".
In several instances, the interface meeting with ASEAN heads of government and the absence of meaningful dialogue with civil society groups in the region only shows the need to proactively go beyond regional integration towards incorporating genuine regional solidarity and in creating the political security community in the region that will ensure socio-economic, cultural and environmental sustainability.
Human rights has been a sensitive issue for some Asean members and the policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs often prevents the issue from being discussed and acted upon.
Dialogue with Asean government officials is not an option but a necessity to ensure a people-oriented ASEAN that upholds human rights, able to meet the aspirations of its peoples and create the building blocks for an equitable environment.
For several years, the challenge for Asean to be relevant, by responding to various issues on the domestic front which compromises the quality of life and of freedom of peoples, remains. Aside from the issue on civil society participation, it is also beset of lack of transparency, including access to information and of the absence of a long term vision toward a just, peaceful and democratic Asean with human rights framework which had been repeatedly overlook in its plan of actions.
It is high time for the regional group to shift from a state centric framework of security towards a focus on the security of individuals and communities especially in the light of huge gaps in terms of civilian protection, democratic governance and human rights situation in Mindanao, Burma, Aceh and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Asean is comprised of 10 countries with disparate political systems and different levels of economic development, ranging from freewheeling democracies such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia to the authoritarian regimes of Vietnam and Laos.
Ensuring human rights and viability of nations in the Asean cannot be kept behind closed doors but should be made open to the public to broaden discussion and ensure a genuinely rights-based regional integration process.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on July 11, 2012.