The 10-member Association of Southeast Nations has been trying for years to come up with a credible human rights policy. The group again at the annual summit in Phnom Penh, has tried to bring out an Asean Human Rights Declaration. Human rights are not an area where failure is an option, but the leaders are trying to fob off a document on their citizens that is not just imperfect, as its cheerleaders maintain. It is a licence to legalise abuse. Asean's inability to construct an acceptable stance on human rights risks losing trust from the region and the world at large.
The serial failures in producing a convincing stand are understandable, if unacceptable. Even with the emergence of Myanmar from brutal oppression to democratic reform, human rights are often treated as lip service or worse within the Asean members. Countries which actually espouse meaningful, 21st century rights remain hostage to the crippling Asean rule of consensus, which gives every government a veto. This means that difficult documents like the human rights declaration devolve to the lowest common denominator.
And this result just won't do. Rosario Manalo, the Philippine diplomat who struggled to bring a document to the summit, said the Declaration "is not perfect". Two obvious examples back up this honest but understated confession.
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