Asean inks contentious human rights pact

PHNOM PENH : Southeast Asian leaders endorsed a controversial human rights pact during an annual summit that kicked off yesterday in Phnom Penh.

Heads of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) hailed their declaration as a landmark agreement that would help protect the region's 600 million people. "It's a legacy for our children," Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said after the signing ceremony.

But critics said drafts of the pact lacked public consultation and allowed too many loopholes for Asean and its varied political systems.

The declaration will likely fall short of minimum standards and could give some countries an excuse to ignore actual human rights abuses, critics said.

"Our worst fears in this process have now come to pass," said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called the Asean Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) an "evolving process".

During her speech at the summit, Ms Yingluck promised to support cooperation among Asean members in security, economic and socio-cultural areas.

Her stance echoes that of Asean-chair Cambodia, which has been boosting the "three pillars" ahead of the Asean Community in 2015.

Ms Yingluck said the economic pillar should include the elimination of trade-obstructing tariffs and the introduction of measures to ease trade and investment.

For the security pillar, Ms Yingluck endorsed a united fight against transnational crimes such as money-laundering and trafficking of narcotics and people. She also called for the quick completion of an Asean convention on human trafficking.

To form the socio-cultural pillar, she urged Asean members to enhance partnership in disaster relief.

Thailand is ready to be a centre of rice supplies, she said, adding that Thailand would organise the Asean Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise in 2013 together with South Korea. To cope with water-related disasters, Ms Yingluck said Thailand would discuss relevant issues with countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion, including China.

One of the most important challenges facing Asean is raising funds to build infrastructure to boost regional transport, trade and investment, Ms Yingluck said. She said Asean should be a "people-centred" community, with strong cooperation on food security. For its part, Thailand is working closely with Asean to increase rice production, she added.

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Writer: Bangkok Post & AFP