[JURIST] Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) [official website] meeting in Thailand said Friday they had held discussions [press release] on a draft charter for the already-controversial ASEAN Human Rights Body (AHRB), which Thai officials have said they expect to be formally created during Thailand's chairmanship of ASEAN this year. The group said that AHRB will "promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms" but will likely lack the power to sanction member states for violations, according to a copy of the draft terms obtained [AP report] by the Associated Press. In a press release, the ASEAN foreign ministers characterized the AHRB as a tool to promote cooperation on common rights issues:
The AHRB is a part of ongoing regional efforts to help realize a truly people-centered ASEAN Community by 2015. The objectives of the AHRB is the creation of an organization that will promote and protect human rights and help shape and raise human rights standards in ASEAN according to the regional context and act as a channel for constructive cooperation on the issue of human rights for ASEAN Member States. In addition, the Foreign Ministers emphasized that the AHRB should be credible, realistic, effective and evolutionary.
Charter drafting committee chairman Sihasak Phuangketkeow also said that the AHRB may have the power to investigate potential abuses, despite previous objections from Myanmar [JURIST report]. Human rights groups reacted to the draft's announcement by doubting that the body would be strong enough [Bangkok Post report] to improve rights in the region, and calling for the AHRB to be given greater powers and independence. A final version of the draft is expected in July.
The AHRB has long faced opposition from some ASEAN states that think it goes too far, as well as rights groups that think it does not go far enough. In 2008, Myanmar called on ASEAN torefrain from interfering [JURIST report] in the internal affairs of ASEAN member nations. ASEAN's failure thusfar to create effective checks on abuses has also been criticized [JURIST report] because of Myanmar's human rights record [JURIST news archive]. A human rights body was provided for under the terms of ASEAN's 2007 charter but so far ASEAN has only agreed to the body in principal [JURIST report].