Monday, 21 July 2008

Myanmar regime ratifies Asean charter including human rights body

MYANMAR (ST)has ratified a proposed international charter that includes controversial human rights provisions, officials said on Monday, a day after regional powers slammed the nation's ruling junta for extending opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's detention.

Myanmar's ratification of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) charter is to be formalised at a ceremony later Monday.

But question marks remain about whether Myanmar's junta, which has jailed hundreds of political dissidents, including Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, is willing to adhere to the principles of human rights and respect for rule of law enshrined in the charter.

It was also unclear whether the proposed Asean human rights body, the details of which have yet to be hammered out, will have any substantive enforcement or monitoring power.

The charter, expected to come into force by next year, aims to strengthen the 10-member group of Asian nations, giving it power to sue and be sued, and establishing enforceable financial, trade and environmental rules.

The most controversial part of the charter is a proposed human rights body.

'It's high time that we concretize the human rights of the people of Asean', said Ms Rosario Manalo, the Philippine representative to the panel.

Still, it is clear that the body will not have the power to sanction countries that violate the rights of its citizens.

The Philippines and possibly Thailand will push for the body to have the power to at least monitor human rights violations, said one South-east Asian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to speak to the media.

Myanmar is the seventh member of Asean to ratify the charter. The Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia have balked at endorsing it, demanding that Myanmar first give firmer commitments to democracy.

The human rights panel, which will hold its first meeting Monday to determine the scope of the human rights body, is expected to submit a draft of its recommendations to the Asean leaders' summit in December.

Ignoring international criticism, Myanmar's junta on May 27 extended Suu Kyi's detention by another year, drawing an extraordinary rebuke Sunday from Asean members who usually shy from criticising each other.

Myanmar officials have issued no public response to that criticism, although its representative at the meeting, Foreign Minister Nyan Win, suggested Sunday that Suu Kyi could be freed from house arrest in about six months.

Suu Kyi has now been detained for more than 12 of the last 18 years at her home in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. -- AP

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