Subject: 6 Asean Reports: Aims For Integration; Constitution; Myanmar; Op-Ed: People's Charter

6 Reports:

- ASEAN aims for integration

- Southeast Asians finalize landmark constitution that will set up human rights body

- Myanmar says it will sign ASEAN charter

- NST: Charter efforts 'show Asean maturity'

- ASEAN 'people's charter' to advance civil society

- Op-Ed: ASEAN 'people's charter' to advance civil society [By Alexander C. Chandra and Rafendi Djamin]

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The Jakarta Post Monday, November 19, 2007

ASEAN aims for integration

Abdul Khalik and Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Singapore

The 10 leaders of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will sign a historical charter and declaration of the Economic Community Blueprint when they meet at the 13th ASEAN Summit here Tuesday.

After actively consulting various sectors and stakeholders -- including civil society organizations, businesspeople, academics and parliamentarians -- for over a year, the ASEAN countries are now ready to sign the charter.

It is hoped the charter would help transform the grouping into a more cohesive and rules-based organization, while the economic blueprint will pave the way for a single market and production base in the region by 2015.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Saturday the charter would make ASEAN a more cohesive and dynamic organization and help promote a culture that supports the effective implementation of agreements. He added it would also put a rules-based framework in place, which would include measures for monitoring compliance and provisions for the settlement of disputes.

The ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint is a master plan that identifies the priority measures and actions to be undertaken to transform ASEAN into a region with free movement of goods, services, investments, skilled labor and flow of capital by 2015.

The ASEAN secretariat said in a statement the blueprint was aimed at ensuring the full and effective functions of the ASEAN economic community in order to generate more growth and create more jobs.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will arrive in Singapore on Monday, is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with leaders of China, Japan, New Zealand and Myanmar on the sidelines of the summit. Many have expressed hope Yudhoyono would use the opportunity to take a stronger stance on the junta when he meets with Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein.

Other key themes of the summit discussions and its related meetings will include energy, the environment, climate change and sustainable development. In line with these themes, ASEAN leaders will sign a declaration on environmental sustainability to protect and manage the environment, respond to climate change issues and conserve the region's natural resources.

"We (will) commit to the common goal of establishing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration in the long run at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate," a draft of the Singapore Declaration on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment read.

The declaration vows to promote cooperation on reforestation efforts and to reduce deforestation, forest degradation and forest fires by promoting sustainable forest management and combating illegal logging and other harmful practices.

The leaders will also declare their support for a successful outcome from the negotiations at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bali next month, which seeks to pave the way for a climate change road map beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation, in which the grouping hold regular talks with China, South Korea and Japan. Building on the foundation of this cooperation, the 13 countries on Tuesday will adopt a joint statement on cooperation over the next ten years.

ASEAN leaders and the three dialogue partners will meet with leaders from Australia, India and New Zealand at the third East Asia Summit (EAS) on Wednesday to discuss key regional issues, including climate change and conditions in Myanmar.

Prime Minister Lee said the EAS countries have a keen interest in the situation in Myanmar.

"The meeting will be an opportunity for leaders to have a frank exchange of views," he said.

Lee said the summit hopes to hear from Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein on how the military government plans to move forward, stressing a key outcome of the EAS meeting will be the strong endorsement of UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari's mission.

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Southeast Asians finalize landmark constitution that will set up human rights body

By JIM GOMEZ Associated Press Writer

SINGAPORE, Nov 19 (AP) - Southeast Asian nations put finishing touches Monday on a landmark charter that will create an agency to review the region's human rights -- though it contains no powers to punish notorious violators like Myanmar.

The regional constitution will be signed by the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, at their annual summit Tuesday. Officials who drafted the charter after 2 1/2 years of negotiations handed it over to ASEAN foreign ministers, who will give it a final reading.

"The high point of the summit will be the signing of the ASEAN Charter," host Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said. "It will take us an important step forward in regional integration, to a higher level."

The long-overdue ASEAN Charter is aimed at formally turning the 40-year-old organization -- often derided as a powerless talk shop -- into a rules-based legal entity. That means ASEAN can sue and be sued, and will be held accountable for all the treaties and agreements it signs.

The charter still needs to be ratified by parliaments of member countries, a process that will take a year.

"It's a good move to give substance to ASEAN after 40 years of our existence. It will change from an informal body, a loose organization, into one with a legal perspective," Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told reporters.

One of the most significant pledges in the charter is to set up a regional human rights body. Critics note that it will have limited impact, given that it will not be able to punish governments that violate human rights of their citizens.

"I'm not sure if it will have teeth but it will certainly have a tongue," Yeo said, referring to the agency's right to admonish and criticize violators. "It will certainly have moral influence if nothing else. But these are details for the future."

An obvious candidate for discussion under the human rights body would be Myanmar, whose military-ruled junta used troops and police to crush peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in late September, killing at least 15 people.

The junta's actions have greatly embarrassed ASEAN, which is under pressure from the West and its own people to force change in the isolated Southeast Asian nation once known as Burma.

A glimmer of hope for democracy in Myanmar has been raised by the recent efforts of U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who met with junta leader Sen. Gen. Than Shwe and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after the September crackdown.

The junta has indicated it will restart the process of national reconciliation.

Myanmar Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Sein, who will attend the summit, is expected to sign the charter, now that negotiators have watered it down by dropping earlier recommendations to consider sanctions, including possible expulsion, in cases of serious breaches of the covenant by member nations.

"We agree with the charter ... we will sign for sure," Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win told reporters on the sidelines of the summit. He declined to comment on the proposed human rights body under the new charter.

Three European students attending the National University of Singapore held a meager candlelight vigil Monday to protest the Myanmar junta's treatment of its political detainees. The city-state doesn't allow street protests without a license and the three were mobbed by media as they walked quietly near the summit site.

A copy of the charter seen by The Associated Press states that any such breaches would be referred to ASEAN heads of state "for decision."

ASEAN was founded during the Cold War years as an anti-communist coalition, eventually evolving into a trade and political bloc. It consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The ASEAN leaders will meet with leaders of China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand for a second summit on Wednesday. This session will be given a briefing by Gambari on Myanmar.

Associated Press reporter Eileen Ng and Vijay Joshi in Singapore contributed to this report.

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Myanmar says it will sign ASEAN charter

SINGAPORE, Nov 19 (AFP) -- Myanmar will this week sign a new charter for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which commits members to promote human rights and democracy, Foreign Minister Nyan Win said Monday.

"We agree with the charter," Nyan Win told reporters following a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, at which the charter was formally adopted ahead of Tuesday's signing ceremony by the bloc's leaders.

"We will sign, sure."

The charter commits ASEAN members "to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms."

It also provides for the creation of a human rights body in a region which was outraged by military-ruled Myanmar's bloody September crackdown on pro-democracy protests, which claimed at least 15 lives.

The charter however does not provide details on how the body will be formed, or what power it will have.

Analysts have said the charter, which marks the first time that ASEAN has codified its basic principles and organisational rules, will be meaningless if Myanmar cannot be held accountable for its alleged widespread abuses.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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New Straits Times (Malaysia) Monday, November 19, 2007

Charter efforts 'show Asean maturity'

SINGAPORE: Asean is trying to integrate the economies in the region and the rule of law to improve the lives of about 560 million people who live in its 10 member states.

But the United States, the European Union and human rights non-governmental organisations all over the world have only shown interest in seeing the end of military rule in the under-developed Myanmar.

Just days before the heads of state of Asean meet here, the US Senate voted to urge the grouping to suspend Myanmar.

The senators want Asean to "consider appropriate disciplinary measures, including suspension" until the military regime is ready to show respect for and commitment to human rights.

It is as if they feel Asean leaders have not been keen to resolve the issue since the grouping accepted Myanmar as member a decade ago.

But the situation is more complex. The fact that Asean is willing to come up with a charter to make it a more effective and rules-based organisation is a feat in itself. Failure to recognise this merely indicates lack of understanding of the Southeast Asian culture.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said Asean's efforts to create the charter showed its maturity and ability to openly discuss sensitive issues that were never touched on throughout its 40 years of existence.

"If you study any regional grouping, you'll notice they too have undergone a process of evolution. Even the European Union still has to contend with problems between the old members and the new members," he told Malaysian journalists here last night.

While he agreed that the Myanmar problem was an important issue, he cautioned those outside the regional grouping not to interpret the charter as a mechanism to deal with a specific country's situation.

"We don't want the issue of Myanmar to hijack this summit. This summit is to determine the future of our region," he added.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other Asean leaders are expected to sign the charter tomorrow at the grouping's 13th summit, and to endorse its economic blueprint for establishing a single market in the region by 2015.

The leaders are also expected to sign a declaration on the environment which will include a commitment to address climate change and conserve natural resources.

Syed Hamid also said that, despite condemnation from many quarters, Myanmar was trying to resolve its problems.

It is now writing a new constitution. A commission of 54 people appointed by the government will meet next month.

But cynics are condemning the military junta as the problem, rather than the problem solver. This will make things more difficult as Myanmar's closest ally is China, which is Asean's new best friend in trade and economy.

Whether or not the Asean Charter is able to resolve the situation in Myanmar, it's not a foregone conclusion that it will fail.

One can expect that Asean will continue to engage with Myanmar. There will be neither expulsion nor suspension for the military-ruled country. With or without the charter, Asean is still a consensus-based organisation.

Syed Hamid believes it is more important to focus on closing the gaps in economic advancement between the six original members - Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei - and its new members Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.

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The Jakarta Post Monday, November 19, 2007

ASEAN 'people's charter' to advance civil society

Alexander C. Chandra and Rafendi Djamin , Jakarta

Early this month, Southeast Asian civil society leaders met at the Third ASEAN and Civil Society Conference (ACSC) in Singapore. There, civil society leaders, composed mainly of representatives from non-governmental organizations, trade unions, grassroot organizations and the academic community, called for the launching of an ASEAN People's Charter.

The campaign for the People's Charter is expected to be launched if the actual ASEAN Charter, which is to be agreed and signed by ASEAN Heads of States in the upcoming Thirteenth ASEAN Summit, fails to address the aspirations of civil society.

The debate around the ASEAN People's Charter began to emerge earlier this year among leaders of civil society groups in Southeast Asia.

At this point, the People's Charter is not expected to replace the actual ASEAN Charter, but, instead, to illustrate the ideal charter people have in mind.

Since the announcement for the creation of an ASEAN Charter by ASEAN leaders in their Summit in 2005, regional and national civil society groups have been active in pursuing close engagements with ASEAN and its member governments on this issue.

Throughout 2006, representatives of civil society groups were given some space to submit their input to the so-called Eminent Persons Group (EPG), which was tasked to provide some initial recommendations on the ASEAN Charter.

Subsequently, an interface between civil society groups and the High Level Task Force (HLTF), currently responsible for the finalization of the draft of the ASEAN Charter, was conducted earlier this year.

Despite this, local, national, and regional civil society groups remain concerned about the final outcome of the ASEAN Charter.

Civil society leaders were particularly worried about the legitimization of the continuous use of ASEAN's existing values, norms, and principles, including non-intervention, Asian values, and others, in the ASEAN Charter.

Apart from providing the legal status for ASEAN, regional civil society leaders felt the ASEAN Charter should provide a sound foundation for the implementation of regional governance in the future.

Consequently, ASEAN Charter's failure to bring radical improvement in ASEAN's modus operandi was considered a significant drawback for the people of Southeast Asia.

Representatives of ASEAN civil society groups also expressed their concerns regarding the space provided by ASEAN and its member governments on the making of the ASEAN Charter.

This was particularly true during the preparation of the final draft of the Charter by the HLTF.

So far, only one interface between civil society groups and members of HLTF was conducted at the regional level. At the national level, members of HLTF showed little intention to meet and engage with their civil society counterparts in the drafting of the Charter.

This applies even in a democratic country such as Indonesia.

The ASEAN Charter drafting process was too hasty. In their statement, representatives of Southeast Asian civil society groups demanded ASEAN leaders ensure transparency through the disclosure of the ASEAN Charter draft for meaningful public consultation and discussions.

Civil society groups also called for an assurance from ASEAN leaders for substantive participation from people at the national and regional levels in the adoption of the ASEAN Charter.

This would include the referendum process at the final phase of the charter process.

Other than high level officials from ASEAN member countries, not many people in the Southeast Asian region really know what their fate might be in years to come.

Would an undemocratic change of government and systematic and gross violations of human rights still permitted under the new Charter?

Would commitment toward trade and investment liberalization that led to the suffering of millions of ASEAN citizens be justified under the new Charter?

Could we see the end of the end of child soldiers and the trafficking of women when the Charter is adopted by the member states?

These are but a handful of complex problems that have to be resolved in the Southeast Asian region. There are many other urgent issues, such as environment, poverty, and so on, that require strong governance -- at both national and regional levels.

The Third ACSC also issued a separate statement to address the issue in Burma. In relation to ASEAN and the ASEAN Charter, the participants of the ACSC 3 called ASEAN member countries to take concrete measures to bring meaningful pressure on the Burmese junta, including the instigation of an arms embargo and measures to stem the flow of resources from ASEAN countries to the Burmese army and its associated elites.

The emergence of the ASEAN People's Charter proposal really reflects the uneasiness of the people of Southeast Asia to allow a handful of ASEAN policy-makers to decide their fate. The people of Southeast Asia would certainly find it difficult if some undemocratic and corrupt governments in ASEAN sign the ASEAN Charter on behalf of its people.

The writers are from the Solidarity for Asian People's Advocacy (SAPA), the Working Group on ASEAN, and are liaisons to the ASEAN Secretariat. They can be reached at a.c.l.chandra@gmail.com and infohd@dds.nl.


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