So the Asean leaders have signed a Charter in the wonderfully democratic nation of Singapore in the company of leaders from Burma’s rogue regime. (Check out this excellent documentary “Burma’s Secret War”.) Each member nation now has to take the Charter back to their home countries so that it can be ratified by their respective parliaments – which shouldn’t be much of a problem, considering how democratic Asean member nations are and how much their governments have the interests of the people at heart. Which leads to the question: why not a referendum as this is a hugely important document that affects the peoples of 10 nations? That will be the day…
Civil society groups that lament that the charter is too state-centred rather than people-centred are missing the point. It was never meant to be people-centred – even though that is what most ordinary people would have wanted, had they been consulted. That is why most of the work of drafting the charter was carried out behind closed doors – even though an Eminent Persons Group did briefly consult a sample of civil society groups. The EPG leader, Musa Hitam, had told civil society representatives that he considered the inclusion of a reference to a human rights mechanism or body as a great achievement. But such a body would predictably be toothless – if and when it is formalised – for some time to come.
So let’s not get side-tracked by the lip-service paid to human rights or the sweet -sounding, but ultimately unenforceable, pledges about democracy.
The Charter is not about protecting the rights of ordinary people including migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers. If it was, do you really think those undemocratic or authoritarian governments among the Asean member nations would have signed it?
Instead, it’s all about facilitating the interests of Big Business as well as providing an institutionalised framework that would, among other things, pave the way for the EU-Asean FTA and further the “free trade” and neo-liberal agenda.
How terribly, terribly sad for the people of Asean!