News / Asia

ASEAN Approves Controversial Human Rights Declaration

Cambodia's PM Hun Sen, left, with ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan after the ceremony for the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, November 18, 2012.
Cambodia's PM Hun Sen, left, with ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan after the ceremony for the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, November 18, 2012.
Irwin Loy
Southeast Asian leaders have signed off on a controversial region-wide human rights declaration in what they say is a landmark moment.  But critics say the declaration is insufficient and will give countries an excuse to ignore, rather than protect, human rights.

Heads of state from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hailed the agreement as a significant milestone for the region. In a ceremony on Sunday, leaders from the 10-member bloc etched their signatures on a region-wide Human Rights Declaration.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan had only praise for the accord when speaking with reporters afterwards.

“I think that is a major, major development... the leaders have just signed that into a declaration committing themselves, every government, every country, to the highest standards, existing and available. And this certainly can be used to monitor the practice, the protection, the promotion of human rights here in the ASEAN countries," he said.

However, many rights groups say the declaration will likely fall short of minimum standards, even though ASEAN leaders have touted recent additions highlighting the importance of existing international laws.

Of particular concern, critics say, are sections included in previous drafts that suggest rights will be considered in light of “regional and national contexts." The same passage remains in the final declaration released publicly late Sunday. 

“You cannot have a national or regional exception," said Phil Robertson, who is with New York-based Human Rights Watch. "You cannot set out a wide range of instances, like public morality, when all these rights would not apply.  All they have done is they have put the loopholes up front and then they have tried to decorate around them.”

About five-dozen rights groups from across ASEAN have also signed statements criticizing the declaration.  Critics have also slammed the process behind drafting the declaration.  An ASEAN committee was formed to create initial drafts, but these were never released publicly, even during limited consultation sessions with civil society groups.

“So far, we are working on leaked drafts, or sometimes just rumors," said Mora Sar, who is with the ASEAN Grassroots Peoples’ Assembly. "If they signed it in this current form, we as civil society, we are really upset.”

Rights groups have tried to make human rights a pressing issue during these meetings, particularly ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s highly anticipated visit, which is scheduled to begin Monday following a stopover in Burma.  But it is likely that ongoing debates over territorial claims to the South China Sea, as well as discussions on the economy and potential new free-trade areas, will dominate upcoming summit meetings.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: ajay Chaturvedi from: India
November 18, 2012 8:23 AM
ASEAN Summitis important not only for the members of the ASEAN but also for India and the regional security. India needs to move fast and support the endeavour of ASEAN to stand up against China's coercive tac in South China Sea. It is an opportunity India should not miss.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs