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Civil society groups in Southeast Asia are calling on the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for full implementation of human
rights and other reforms. The call was being
made ahead of an ASEAN summit to be held in Thailand later this month.
society groups made the call Friday for consultations with regional
governments so more social and economic issues can be addressed when
ASEAN leaders meet in Thailand later this month.
Stothardt, spokeswoman for the Alternative ASEAN Network, says there is
a need to have "substantive dialogue and engagement" with ASEAN leaders
on regional issues.
"Not just in terms of meeting the heads
of government every year for a few minutes but in terms of talking
'nuts and bolts' with senior officials," she said. "The people want to
engage not just in a ritual or ceremonial way but actually in a
substantive way where we get to talk about the various policies that
affect our daily lives."
The role of civil society groups took a major step forward following ASEAN meetings earlier this year.
Under the reforms, civil society groups now have the opportunity to hold talks with selected countries.
the July meetings several groups held talks with leaders, including
Thailand, to raise issues of rights abuses in Burma. A rights charter
has also been adopted by all 10 members promoting a so-called
But groups say they are pessimistic
about the effectiveness of reforms, that include adoption of a human
rights charter and the setting up of a rights commission to oversee
issues of abuses in Southeast Asia.
Yap Swee Seng, a
representative with rights group Forum Asia, raised doubts the
commission will be fully independent because it could be funded and
controlled within the ASEAN Secretariat.
"If you do not have
independent experts sitting in the commission and instead you have
government officials sitting in the commission how is the commission
going to hold ASEAN member states accountable to human rights? So it
really runs to the core question of how independent it can be unless
you have independent experts that can speak without fear and favor," he
Other issues rights groups want to raise with leaders
include the impact of climate change on communities and the effect
investment projects would have in Burma and other countries.
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Ohmar, a member of the Forum for Democracy in Burma, says ASEAN needs
to press Burma to talk with the democratic opposition and ethnic
nationalities about the release of political prisoners and a halt to
human rights abuses against ethnic minorities.
"The key message
that we want to get across this time is for ASEAN to really address, to
really engage dialogue with the regime of how they have already been
breaching the charter so that as a regional bloc that we really want it
on the table as official agenda," she said.
ASEAN is expected to
push Burma on reforms amid recent moves by several countries, including
the United States, to re-engage with Burma's military government, while
at the same time maintaining economic sanctions to influence the regime
to end rights abuses.
Thailand is hosting this second summit of
ASEAN leaders starting October 23. An earlier leaders meeting had to be
canceled after anti-government protesters stormed a key venue where the
summit was due to be held. The Thai government said it will step up
security at the summit later this month.