Indonesia holds ground on ASEAN Charter by Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, 14 June 2007

Indonesia is continuing to insist on the inclusion of articles on human rights and democratic values in the ASEAN Charter, currently being drafted by representatives from the grouping’s 10 member countries.

“The substance of the ASEAN Charter will not be far from the recommendation of the Eminent Persons Group, which has highlighted the importance of including human rights and democratic values in the charter,” Foreign Ministry director general for ASEAN Affairs, Dian Triansysh Djani, told a roundtable discussion at the Nikko Hotel in Jakarta on Thursday.

Indonesia, Dian said, will always be at the forefront of efforts to ensure these principles are enshrined in the charter.

Several speakers at the discussion had expressed concern Indonesia would back down on demands for the inclusion of these principles because of pressure from several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the task force drafting the charter.

An international relations expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Rizal Sukma, warned of the danger of not including human rights and democratic values in the charter.

“Inclusion of human rights and democratic principles in the charter is non-negotiable. Indonesia must fight for it because we will have no basis for protecting people’s rights if the principles are not included in the charter,” he said at the discussion.

Rizal also said the ASEAN Security Community, one of the grouping’s three pillars to achieve full community integration, would have no foundation because human rights and democracy have been declared core values of the community.

Rumors have been circulating that during the process of drafting the charter, several member countries have asked for the removal of references to human rights and democratic values from the charter.

Rizal said he heard that Myanmar did not want the principles included, and that Singapore also tended to oppose them.

Thailand’s military junta, he added, has reportedly expressed opposition because the Eminent Persons Group did not acknowledge transfers of power by undemocratic means, such as military coups.

Lawmaker Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia’s largest political party, Golkar, expressed hope the charter would include an article allowing for the establishment of a regional human rights mechanism.

“The drafting of the charter is a great opportunity to have a human rights mechanism in ASEAN after years of effort. If we pass this opportunity we will have to start back at square one,” Marzuki, chairman of the ASEAN Human Rights Working Group, said.

Ikrar Nusa Bakti of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences said it was time Indonesia, the biggest country in the region, took the lead in fighting for values in which it believes and practices.

“I think Indonesia now is the most democratic country in ASEAN. We should not let ourselves be bogged down by other ASEAN members. It’s time to show our firmness and greatness.”

In addition to human rights and democracy, Rizal proposed sanctions for non-compliance with the charter, as well as a clear explanation of the role of the ASEAN Secretariat, be included in the charter.

“Without all these points it is useless to have a charter, because it won’t make any difference from the current practice of consensus and non-sanction gathering,” he said.

The task force will meet two more times to finalize the charter before submitting the first complete draft to ASEAN foreign ministers gathering in Manila in August.

ASEAN leaders are expected to sign the charter when they meet for a summit in Singapore in November.

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