Member Bares ASEAN Human Rights Body in the Draft ASEAN
Charter; Consults with Philippine Civil Society Groups
and Government Agencies
Assistant Secretary Luis Cruz, Speaker Jose De Venecia,
and Ambassador Rosario Manalo discuss concerns for
ASEAN Charter draft.
Members of Philippine civil society groups convened at the
University of the Philippines on September 6, 2007 to meet
with Ambassador Rosario Manalo, the Philippine Member (and
former Chair) of the High Level Task Force on the Drafting
of the ASEAN Charter (HLTF). The forum, themed “ASEAN
at 40: The Relevance of a Charter in ASEAN Community Building”,
was organized by the Economic, Social, Cultural Rights-Asia
(ESCR-Asia) in tandem with the Asian Center and the Department
of Political Science of the University
of the Philippines. Students and representatives from
grass root organizations and the Philippine Working Group
for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (PWG) were represented
in the forum.
Ambassador Manalo informed the body that, during the
40th ASEAN Ministerial
Meeting in Manila on July 30, 2007, ASEAN Foreign
Ministers approved the inclusion of a provision on an
ASEAN human rights body in the draft
Charter, as follows: “In conformity
with the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter
relating to the promotion and protection of human rights
and fundamental freedoms, ASEAN shall establish an ASEAN
human rights body”. This will appear in
an Article in Chapter IV on Organizations of the draft
“We would like to congratulate Ambassador Manalo
for her role in bringing about this development. Without
her leadership (of the HLTF), we doubt that this Article
would have found its way to the Charter draft,”
Former Philippine Senator Wigberto Tañada, PWG
chair, elatedly said.
The PWG is part of the region-wide Working Group for
an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism which has been engaging
ASEAN, and more recently, the HLTF. It has been advocating
for an ASEAN human rights body since 1993. One of its
recent proposals to ASEAN is for the human rights body
to be established within five years after the Charter
is ratified, if not sooner.
Others still view this time frame as too long. Former
Congresswoman Loretta Ann Rosales, herself a PWG member,
urged ASEAN to address the promotion and protection of
human rights in the region with urgency. She suggested
that the ASEAN human rights body be built immediately
after the Charter is approved by the ASEAN heads of state
and governments in November 2007.
Ambassador Manalo responded by saying that the advocacy
for an ASEAN human rights mechanism had indeed been ongoing
for many years already. “ASEAN will not go anywhere
with a ‘mechanism’,” she said, “the
HLTF wishes to institutionalize the regional human rights
body as a commission”.
By way of preparing for the 10th HLTF meeting in Chiang
Mai, Thailand on September 10-14, 2007, the Department
of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines also consulted
with various government agencies the next day and elicited
more feedback on the Charter draft. Among the issues pushed
for during the meeting were gender-equality in the selection
of ASEAN officers, the creation of an ASEAN parliament,
and support for disadvantaged groups.
The ASEAN Charter will codify ASEAN norms, rules, and
values which include the promotion of democracy, human
rights and obligations, transparency and good governance.
ASEAN heads of state declared their commitment in 2005
to establish an ASEAN Charter. They had appointed the
HLTF, consisting of distinguished statespersons from each
ASEAN member-state, to draft the Charter.