Prachatai has obtained a copy, marked ‘Confidential’, of the draft ASEAN Charter which we present here.
This document, which has been in the drafting process for 2 years, is supposedly for the benefit of the citizens of all ASEAN countries. Yet public participation in drafting the charter has been virtually zero and the plan is for the document to remain secret until it is signed into force by all member countries at the ASEAN summit in Singapore on 20 November.
The draft charter has been submitted today to the [Thailand] National Legislative Assembly, in accordance with Article 190 of the 2007 Constitution which requires that all foreign treaties receive parliamentary approval. It is highly unusual for a parliament in a democracy to deliberate on a document that is a secret to its own people.
The draft charter is the work primarily of a high-level task force, compromising one representative from each ASEAN member state. The draft was reviewed by an eminent persons group, which sought very limited input at a meeting in Manila in March. At this meeting, representatives of the media and civil society were expected to comment on a draft which they had not been shown. A summary in Thai was leaked early in October by unattributed sources in the Thai government.
Attempts by civil society in other ASEAN countries (and members such as Lao and Burma allow no civil society) to obtain copies of the draft charter and to initiate public debate have been met with an almost impregnable wall of secrecy.
Pseudonymity: Click HERE to view the document in PDF. File size is about 6MB.
The closely guarded ASEAN Charter has apparently been leaked with the document being widely posted on the Internet.
The Charter which has been in the planning for the past two years is supposed to be a document for the benefit of the people in ASEAN. However, the process has been kept a secret and the people have had no say in the drafting of the document.
What is not a secret is that the Charter is established to give ASEAN a legal status on which trade deals can be based.
The “confidential” final draft contains a total of 13 chapters and 55 articles outlining various provisions ranging from organisation’s registration to dispute settlement to the various functions of its sub-groups.
Article 36 even specifies the Association’s motto: “One Vision, One Identity, One Community.” There will also be an ASEAN anthem.
If the leaked document is what ASEAN is going to sign during the summit in Singapore on 20 Nov 07, then there is little to cheer for human rights.
While the Preamble waxes lyrical about human rights – declaring that the group adheres to “the principles of democracy, rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” – there is precious little about how this is going to be carried out.
There are only two paragraphs contained in Article 14 of the Charter entitled “ASEAN Human Rights Body”. One of the paragraphs states that ASEAN “shall establish an ASEAN human rights body.” (See below)
No time line was given and no information of the nature of the body was provided except that it will operate “in accordance with the terms of reference” that will be determined by the ASEAN governments.
Not unexpectedly, ASEAN has deliberately kept the language vague and general to the point of it being quite devoid of meaning.
To be sure ASEAN consists of a few oppressive governments that will not allow a regional human rights body to interfere with their work.
It is therefore important for human rights defenders in the region and all over the world to continue to press ASEAN for concrete action instead of paying lip-service on the subject.
For a start, the Singapore Democrats call on ASEAN to:
i. Make a commitment to establish a human rights commission within the next two years,
ii. Ensure that the terms of reference for such a commission adheres to the principles of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
iii. Provide the commission the necessary powers to investigate complaints of human rights violations by ASEAN governments and to enforce the rules laid down by the commission.
ASEAN Charter, Article 14
ASEAN HUMAN RIGHTS BODY
1. In conformity with the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, ASEAN shall establish an ASEAN human rights body.
2. This ASEAN human rights body shall operate in accordance with the terms of reference to be determined by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting.