World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search

 


ASEAN Prepares To Establish Itself As Legal Entity


By Naomi Martig
Hong Kong
15 November 2007

ASEAN Prepares to Make Itself Legal, But Change in Actions May be Slow in Coming

After 40 years of existence, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will formally establish itself as a legal entity when it signs its first constitution at next week's summit meeting in Singapore. The charter seeks to set rules and procedures for the regional bloc. But a draft of the document suggests that any enforcement mechanism will be weak, and the group will still have limited power to deal with troublesome members, like Burma.

Despite encompassing more than 500 million people, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has less standing than other major regional groups. ASEAN's percentage of world trade is small, and the organization is often criticized for not having the strength or the will to make an impact on humanitarian and social issues in its region.

Hopes are high among ASEAN leaders that after its first charter is signed in Singapore next Tuesday, governments and organizations will take it more seriously. But analysts have expressed doubts, and they point to ASEAN's inability to push for democratic change in Burma, one of ASEAN's 10 member nations, as the reason.

The European Union, the United Nations and the United States have taken action to try to force change in Burma. They have called on ASEAN to bring its organizational influence to bear on Burma's military government. But a lack of formal rules and enforcement powers has meant that ASEAN as a group has been unable to address the situation as strongly as the international community would like.

Roshan Jason, executive director of the ASEAN Interparliamentary Caucus, says that so far, the organization has only paid lip service to pressing for democratic reform in Burma.

"All ASEAN has done, many ASEAN countries have done, is fatten their pockets with economic dealings with the junta, and...once in awhile, on occasion, voice discontent or concern with the junta's brutality and lack of democratic reform. But it always goes back to the status quo," Jason said.

He says if ASEAN wants respect internationally, it will need a strong constitution, and the will to back that up with strong action.

"ASEAN has an opportunity to reinstate some of its pride and belief by the international community towards it, by being strong and coming out with a very strongly worded charter, and one which will be used immediately against any member countries which are violating human rights," he explained.

The international community has frequently criticized ASEAN leaders for their failure to take decisive action, especially during the recent violent crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in Burma. While ASEAN did condemn the crackdown, member nations have resisted calls to impose sanctions.

Hiro Katsumata is an expert on ASEAN at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore. He says a draft of the charter leaked to the media in recent weeks is a watered-down version of what the international community had hoped would be produced.

"The final draft of the charter seems to be a little bit softer in terms of this punishment and implementation and sanctions," he noted. "That demonstrates...the limitation on the part of ASEAN members to carry out its task or to make a departure from the traditional approach, (the) ASEAN way of diplomacy."

Katsumata says he does not think ASEAN's leaders want to address Burma's human rights situation too forcefully. He says they are concerned that if they place too much pressure on Burma, they will push the military government into an uncomfortably close relationship with China.

"If that happens, if Myanmar becomes China's proxy, then China will have free access to the Indian Ocean, this is the worst scenario for the rest of the ASEAN countries," he said.

ASEAN'S traditional policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs is included in the draft charter, as is the establishment of a human rights mechanism. But Katsumata says ASEAN leaders are also not likely to provide too clear a statement of what the human rights body will entail.

Doing so could force the leaders to address human rights concerns not only in Burma, but also in their own countries.

ASEAN is an odd collection of dictatorships, monarchies and underdeveloped democracies. It was founded by Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines in 1967, as an anti-communist group. Since then, it has grown to include Brunei, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Very few of those nations fully embrace human rights as they are defined internationally, and the countries' leaders are unlikely to commit ASEAN to ideals they themselves do not subscribe to.

How the new charter will affect investment and trade is expected to be a major topic of interest at the summit. Member nations have said they hope the charter will allow trading partners, such as the European Union, to have more confidence in ASEAN, because the Asian group will now be bound by clear regulations.

By adopting a constitution, ASEAN should have a greater ability to move, like the EU, toward common trade and investment policies.

ENDS

More: Latest World News | Top World News | World Digest | Archives

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
World Headlines

 

At The UN: Paris Climate Agreement Moves Closer To Entry Into Force

The Paris Agreement on climate change moved closer toward entering into force in 2016 as 31 more countries joined the agreement today at a special event hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. More>>

ALSO:

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The End Game In Spain (And Other World News)

The coverage of international news seems almost entirely dependent on a random selection of whatever some overseas news agency happens to be carrying overnight... Here are a few interesting international stories that have largely flown beneath the radar this past week. More>>

Amnesty/Human Rights Watch: Appalling Abuse, Neglect Of Refugees On Nauru

Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, most of whom have been held there for three years, routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans. More>>

ALSO:

Other Australian Detention

Gordon Campbell: On The Censorship Havoc In South Africa’s State Broadcaster

Demands have included an order to staff that there should be no further negative news about the country’s President Jacob Zuma, and SABC camera operators responsible for choosing camera angles that have allegedly made the President ‘look shorter’ were to be retrained... More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On A Bad Week For Malcolm Turnbull, And The Queen

Malcolm Turnbull’s immediate goal – mere survival – is still within his grasp... In every other respect though, this election has been a total disaster for the Liberals. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On Bidding Bye Bye To Boris

Boris Johnson’s exit from the contest for Conservative Party leadership supports the conspiracy theory that he never really expected the “Leave” option to win the referendum – and he has no intention now of picking up the poisoned chalice that managing the outcome will entail... More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
World
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news