Feedback on proposed Asean charter

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Aliran, responding to a request for feedback by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, has asserted that the proposed Asean Charter should promote social justice and people-centred development, uphold internationally recognised human rights standards, and protect the environment.

General

The Asean Charter should call for solidarity and cooperation to promote social justice and the eradication of poverty and income disparities while strengthening multilateralism in international relations. It should also call for sovereignty, respect for territorial integrity, and the self-determination of people while promoting Asean as a zone of peace and neutrality.

Economic focus

We are against any attempt to frame the proposed Charter to facilitate greater neo-liberalisation of economies in the Asean region. Such a focus in the past has aggravated income inequalities in the region. The  Charter should not legitimise the current neo-liberal economic policies being pursued by Asean through bilateral or other agreements.

The Charter should instead allow for the search for alternatives to             neo-liberal corporate-led globa-lisation – which has deepened asymmetries and contributed to economic, social and political marginalisation –  and move towards people-centred development. This should be based on real social principles and people-centred strategies that would put labour above capital, people above profits.

The Asean Charter should uphold economic and distributive justice to reduce poverty and close the region’s yawning gap between the rich and the poor. The Charter must also oppose the corporate privatisation of basic services such as health care, education and distribution of water. The interests of smallholders, farmers and fisherfolk must be protected.

Human rights

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The Charter must include the promotion and protection of human rights as the core value to be embraced by Asean states.

These standards should be based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related Conventions rather than on any relative ‘Asian’ notion of human rights that may suit authoritarian regimes. The Charter should also be gender-sensitive and oriented towards sustainable development.

The Asean Charter must call for integration without dictatorships and should be respectful of human dignity and rights. Human rights should be seen as universal, interdependent and indivisible. Similar effort should be taken to developing both civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

The Asean Charter must also include protection of the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers under international human rights law, international refugee law, and ILO conventions.

The Charter should provide for the existing Asean human rights working group to be institutionalised. This group should be given more powers and seriously developed further. The ultimate goal would be the creation of effective monitoring and enforcement mechanisms and institutions. These could include semi-judicial bodies such as a regional human rights commission and judicial bodies such as a regional human rights court. This must be stated in the Charter.

Cultural diversity and biodiversity must be protected and great importance should be placed on the welfare of rural and indigenous populations.

Environment

The Charter should stress harmony with Nature. It should uphold the preservation of ecosystems, the protection of biological diversity and the importance of traditional knowledge.

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It should spell out clearly that Asean is against any development initiative in member nations that harms or degrades the environment.

There should be active and strong cooperation on critical transboundary issues such as migration and refugees (in a manner that respects international human rights norms), the smog, people trafficking, drug smuggling and bird flu.
 

Removal of non-interference principle

In this regard, Asean’s principle of non-interference must be removed as it can no longer effectively address and resolve such transboundary issues satisfactorily. Moreover, the non-interference principle prevents Asean from taking any action if member states flagrantly violate human rights or flout environmental standards in their respective nations.

Human security

There must be a broader understanding of ‘security’ spelt out in the Charter. The current Asean Security Community’s definition of security issues is not inclusive as references are made only to the State but not to the people. Therefore, the concept of ‘’human security’’ must be institutionalised. Human security should encompass not only freedom from violence but also ensure freedom from threats to people’s lives, including hunger, poverty, disease, marginalisation, and exclusion.

Human security also hinges upon environmental integrity and ecological security that safeguard against degradation and destruction that cause disease, harsh living conditions, and loss of lives and livelihoods.

Basic principles

The Asean Charter must include core principles such as people’s sovereignty (instead of corporate rule), solidarity (instead of domination), cooperation (instead of exploitation) and complemen-tarity (instead of competition).

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The above response was submitted to the Foreign Ministry following their fax to Aliran and other NGOs requesting our views on the proposed Charter.

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