Few people are even aware that a major development is taking place in South-East Asia. As usual, we are in the dark.
Before long, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will come up with a Charter. In other words, work is in progress towards coming up with a ‘constitution’ for the regional grouping of 10 nations.
Strange, they are talking about forming an Asean Community by 2015 and yet most people don’t have a clue what’s going on.
Here’s an extract from a piece I wrote for the Malaysian Herald last October:
You would think that on a subject of this importance, the people of Southeast Asia would be consulted and a broad range of views solicited. You would think that our newspapers and television and radio programmes would be discussing this week in and week out to discern what exactly should be included in such a Charter. You would think that our political leaders would be asking us for our views and suggestions.
That’s not happening, is it?
Perhaps that’s because the real intention of such a Charter is to come up with a regional framework to facilitate business and trade. Maybe the ordinary people come a distant second. It reminds me of the high-level secrecy surrounding the negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement between Malaysia and the United States… Not good…
Human rights groups and other civil society organisations are now pushing for the inclusion of certain crucial ideas into the Charter.
They want the Charter to be people-centered as opposed to business- or trade-centred. In other words, the interests of people (labour) should take precedence over the interests of corporations (capital).
Bearing in mind there are quite a few authoritarian and undemocratic governments in the region, they also want the Charter to uphold universally accepted democratic and human rights norms.
In particular, these human rights groups are asking the drafters to ensure that human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related Conventions are explicitly upheld in the ASEAN Charter. The recognition of these rights should form the overarching framework of the Charter, which should also be gender-sensitive and oriented towards sustainable development.
But all the fine words in the world will be useless if they remain mere words on paper. Activists want the drafters to ensure that effective monitoring and enforcement mechanisms and institutions are provided in the Charter. These mechanisms could include semi-judicial bodies such as a regional human rights commission and judicial bodies such as a regional human rights court.