ASEAN rights pact on track despite protests - Cambodia

Posted at 11/16/12 8:17 AM

PHNOM PENH, Nov 15, 2012 (AFP) - Southeast Asian nations are on course to endorse a human rights declaration despite complaints from rights groups and the UN that it falls below global standards, Cambodia said Thursday.

Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations "will adopt the declaration" when they gather for an annual summit in Phnom Penh from Sunday, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters.

United Nations rights chief Navi Pillay and leading rights groups have called for the proposed declaration, which has yet to be officially published, to be postponed amid fears it undermines universal human rights agreements.

Campaigners have also slammed the lack of transparency and the absence of consultation with civil society groups during the drafting.

"Of course, this declaration will not totally satisfy some civil society groups," said Hor Namhong.

"This is the first step," he said, adding that the bloc might consult with civil society groups in the future to improve the text.

More than 60 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, issued a statement on Thursday urging ASEAN to revise the draft declaration.

In its current form, the pact was "a betrayal of the hopes of the people of Southeast Asia", HRW's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson told AFP.

"As written, the declaration provides giant loopholes for ASEAN governments to justify abusing rights in the name of national security or local context," he said.

Pillay voiced similar worries last week, urging the bloc "to take the necessary time to develop a declaration that fully conforms with international human rights standards".

ASEAN is comprised of 10 countries with disparate political systems and different levels of economic development, ranging from freewheeling democracies like the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia to the authoritarian regimes of Vietnam and Laos.

Human rights has been a sensitive issue for some ASEAN members, with the grouping's policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs often preventing the issue from being discussed more thoroughly at annual meetings.

ASEAN was accused by the West of turning a blind eye to abuses in Myanmar under the former junta, which last year handed power to a quasi-civilian government.

© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse