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Cablegate: "Asean Charter for Asean People": Genuine

VZCZCXRO0489
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHBK #3701/01 3540750
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 190750Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5448
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 6626
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 5408
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 5155
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 2537
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 5991
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHDC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 003701

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR PHU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV ASEAN TH
SUBJECT: "ASEAN CHARTER FOR ASEAN PEOPLE": GENUINE
COMMITMENT OR PR GIMMICK? THAI CIVIL SOCIETY VIEWS

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SUMMARY AND COMMENT
--------------------

1. (U) Summary: A December 11 panel of academics and
activists gathered at the Foreign Correspondents' Club
Thailand (FCCT) to debate the validity of the ASEAN Charter's
claim to be "an ASEAN Charter for ASEAN People." Most
panelists questioned the ability of the Charter's regional
architecture to stay relevant in the region's complex
political, economic, and security environment, particularly
in light of the past lack of ASEAN political will in
promoting and protecting human rights based on a policy of
noninterference. Some panelists argued that the Charter
raised the bar on governance so high that no member would be
able to fully comply, and that the Charter itself had the
potential to destroy ASEAN. Human rights abuses inside Burma
and the lack of an ASEAN response also dominated the
discussion, suggesting that Burma will continue to challenge
ASEAN should member countries ignore the needs of the Burmese
people. Panelists also pointed to the lack of a meaningful
ASEAN human rights mechanism as proof that ASEAN is intended
to serve governments, and not people.

2. (SBU) Comment: Coming at a time of political uncertainty
which led to the postponement of the ASEAN summits and an
interim government in Thailand, the panel demonstrated the
continued vigorous discourse ongoing in Thai civil society.
With democratization at the forefront of many Thais' minds,
many believe with dismay that ASEAN members are likely to put
government interests and regional stability ahead of human
rights enforcement. While Thais in the NGO community would
welcome stronger moves by ASEAN to support democracy, and the
incoming Democrat Party-led coalition has vowed to ensure
that Thai foreign policy better reflects the fact that
Thailand is a democracy, the jury remains out on how much the
traditionally cautious RTG foreign policy may change. End
Summary and Comment.

Non-Interference Threatens Viability of a People's Charter?
------------------------------------ ----------------------

3. (U) Director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of
Security and International Studies Thitinan Pongsudhirak
opened a December 11 FCCT panel discussion on the ASEAN
Charter by labeling it as "the platform of ASEAN's future."
He reminded the crowd that ASEAN is the only regional
organization in Asia to survive 41 years, but noted that less
than 30 percent of all ASEAN agreements have been
implemented. ASEAN became a legal entity on December 15 with
the passing into force of the Charter, which sets benchmarks
for democracy while reaffirming ASEAN's policy of
non-interference in members' internal affairs and decision by
consensus. Thitinan questioned what would happen in the
likely event that a member violated the Charter, noting that
ASEAN has a policy of noninterference and that any human
rights provision will test this long-standing policy.

4. (U) Panelists also worried that the worldwide economic
crisis would shift ASEAN members' attention away from pillar
three, the "people-to-people" or socio-cultural element of
ASEAN, to focus solely on pillars one (political) and two
(economic). Thitinan stressed his belief in the long-term
staying power of ASEAN, but worried that benchmarks set by
the Charter, and ASEAN's status as a legal entity, could
create havoc for ASEAN should the majority of countries fall
short of the Charter's goals. The question remained of how
ASEAN countries would react when a country violated the
Charter.

Burma: A Thorn in ASEAN's Side
------------------------------

5. (U) Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of the
Union of Burma (and panelist) Soe Aung said he felt
"hopeless" about the ASEAN Charter's ability to serve the
Burmese people -- in particular, given that ASEAN failed to
reprimand the Burmese government following its reaction to

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the Saffron Uprising and Cyclone Nargis. Soe Aung noted that
ASEAN even praised the Burmese military response to Cyclone
Nargis, and that ASEAN members had failed to support the UN
General Assembly Third Committee resolution on Burma. "By
doing nothing," he said, "ASEAN is murdering its own
charter." Soe Aung stressed that ASEAN must prove it has the
political will and self-respect to enforce the Charter's
people-centered initiatives.

Stability of Governments to Trump Human Rights?
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (U) Human Rights Watch consultant (and panelist) Sunai
Phasuk pointed out that ASEAN remained the world's only
regional grouping that lacked a meaningful human rights
mechanism. He argued that the Human Rights Body under
consideration currently was intentionally "decorative." He
claimed that the Terms of Reference (TOR) block ASEAN
members' ability to counter human rights abuses by member
countries, lamenting that the success of ASEAN and the
Charter depend on governments' views rather than their
effectiveness in meeting the needs of the people residing in
ASEAN member countries. To illustrate this point, Sunai
opined that ASEAN members cared only about domestic political
turmoil in Thailand once the airports closed and impacted
Thailand's ability to host the ASEAN summit; ASEAN
governments appeared apathetic about what type of government
would be running Thailand and how it would impact Thais.

7. (U) All panelists supported the continuation of ASEAN
civil society and youth forums that could be relevant to the
lives of ASEAN people. A representative from the ASEAN Youth
Network who recently attended a camp program focused on food
and energy concerns alongside 50 other teenagers from the
Mekong sub-region said that "the Charter has good intentions,
but is not practical."
JOHN

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