Human Rights in
Asean Seen as a Paper Tiger
By Pravit Rojanaphruk
October 15, 2010
The forum was organised by the Southeast Asian Human Rights
Network and other partner organisations such as Mahidol
University's Centre for Human Rights Studies and Social
Some experts like Carlos P Medina, executive director
of the Human Rights Centre in Manila believes the region's
human rights mechanisms don't have teeth and merely concentrated
on promotion, not protection.
"Asean is wary of its image, sometimes more than
substance. There are many Asean countries focusing on
the makeup. We have to unmask it," he said
Associate Professor Azmi Sharon from the University of
Malaya said the principle of non-interference, along with
what is known as the Asean way, were the main obstacles.
"The Asean way is where we don't disturb each other,
and just love others," he said, adding that there's
a need to push for "proper treaties" that would
promote and protect human rights in the region.
Viti Muntabhorn, a noted law professor at Chulalongkorn
University, sounded slightly hopeful though, saying that
at least the issue of human rights in Asean is "totally
However, he warned that "fa?adism" has prevailed
on many fronts, with cyber laws in Thailand and beyond
"unnecessarily" muzzling the freedom of expression.
"[The region] still spends too much on military
and national security, and not enough on human security,"
he said, adding that the regional rights body still had
no power to investigate or implicate individuals or countries
that have committed abuses.
"The Asean is after all intergovernmental. It's
not inter-people," he said, adding that there's a
lack of democracy on many fronts in the region and not
enough decentralisation and redistribution.
Surin Pitsuwan, Asean secretary-general, in his keynote
speech acknowledged that "we have a long way to go"
until the rhetoric of political discourse spreads throughout
"In some landscape of the region, it doesn't apparently
exist," he said, urging the gathering to elevate
human rights in the region to a higher level.