WANTED: People-centred Asean Charter

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Human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration should form the overarching basis of the Charter, a string of Malaysian civil society groups have asserted in a statement of key concerns.

The national consultation conference on the Asean Charter, which was held on 16-17 October 2006 in Kuala Lumpur and attended by 32 Malaysian NGOs, welcomes the steps taken so far by Asean to establish the Asean Charter, which will be legally binding on its member states.

We, however, express regret that there has been little consultation with civil society at the national level in Malaysia by the government or the EPG (Eminent Persons Group). We call on the Malaysian government to ensure meaningful consultation with civil society and all other stake-holders for the forthcoming drafting process of the actual Asean Charter by the High Level Task Force that is due to be established by the ASEAN Summit in December 2006 in Cebu, the Philippines.

We call on the Malaysian government and other Asean governments:


General framework of the Charter

a.    to ensure that the ASEAN Charter will be a people centered, pro-democracy, rights-based, gender-sensitive and sustainable development-oriented Charter.
 
b.    to ensure that human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related Conventions are recognised and espoused by the Asean Charter explicitly and become the overarching framework of the Charter.

c.    to ensure effective monitoring and enforcement mechanisms and institutions, including semi-judicial bodies such as a regional human rights commission and judicial bodies such as a regional human rights court, are provided in the Charter.

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d.    To ensure the Asean Charter gives legal basis to the Asean Human Rights Mechanism for its effective operation.

Political and security pillar

e.    to adopt a holistic concept of human security for the region that encompasses not only freedom from violence but also freedom from threats to people’s lives, including hunger, poverty, disease, marginalisation and exclusion. Human security also hinges upon environmental integrity and ecological security, which  safeguard against degradation and destruction that cause disease, harsh living conditions, and loss of lives and livelihoods. Competition for and overexploitation of the environment also cause displacement and breakup of communities and give rise to aggression and armed conflicts.

f.    to remove the non- interference principle of Asean.

Economic pillar
 
g.    to ensure that the Asean Charter espouses the principle of economic justice that is poverty-reduction oriented and driven by distributive justice to close the gap between the rich and the poor. The Asean Charter should not legitimise the current neo-liberal economic policies being pursued by Asean through bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements.

h.    to ensure the model of development of Asean observes the principles of sustainable development

Socio-cultural pillar

i.    to ensure that basic and essential services such as water, health care and education are universally accessible and affordable to all.

j.    to ensure free flow and free access to information and to uphold press freedom.

k.    to uphold multiculturalism and freedom of religion in accordance with international human rights standards.

The above is from a 17 Oct 2006 statement of key concerns arising from a national consultation on the proposed Asean Charter.

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* The Malaysian Foreign Ministry has since held a meeting with some of the main Malaysian civil society groups on 23 February to discuss the drafting process and other substantive issues.

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