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Draft Copy of Much-Awaited ASEAN Charter Leaked to Media

A draft copy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation's much awaited charter has been leaked to the media, just days before member organizations are to sign the document at a summit in Singapore. As Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong, the charter establishes councils to handle political, economic and social issues within the region, and sets other specific criteria on how it will function.

The ASEAN draft charter first obtained by a Thai media group shows the 40-year old organization intends to hold on to its principle of non-interference in the affairs of member states.

The charter does call for the creation of a human rights body, but the 30-page document gives only two paragraphs to the topic.

Jenina Chavez is a senior associate with Focus on the Global South, a non-governmental organization based in Bangkok that offered ASEAN recommendations for the charter. She says an agreement on what its human rights body should look like appears to be lacking.

"It says that it will establish a human rights body and nothing more. So it wasn't as specific or as clear as we would have wanted," said Chavez.

Chavez says that if ASEAN is to establish itself as an influential regional body, it must protect the rights of those living in the region.

"Only four ASEAN countries have national human rights institutes, that's only Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia," continued Chavez. "The six others do not have that. And we were hoping that a regional human rights body is a mechanism by which those who do not have access to national human rights courts and national human rights commissions will now have recourse to a regional one."

ASEAN has been under pressure to do more to address human rights abuses, particularly in Burma. A recent crackdown on pro-democracy activists there led to the arrest of nearly three thousand people. At least ten people were killed.

One article of the draft charter says that member states can be referred to consultation and negotiation proceedings, and unresolved matters can also be presented at summits as a last resort.

The charter provides a stronger role for ASEAN's secretary-general, and mentions the possible creation of ASEAN missions within international organizations.

The draft does not mention issues such as penalties for breaking rules, or whether a member nation can be kicked out for not abiding by policies.

The charter is to be signed on November 20 at a summit in Singapore. Calls to ASEAN officials to verify the authenticity of the draft were not returned.

ASEAN was founded by Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines in 1967. Its membership was later augmented by Brunei, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.