Pic: AP.

Commission, they say, has failed to bring any improvement whatsoever for basic rights, reports Asia Sentinel

A group of Southeast Asian lawmakers has issued a blistering statement saying the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ human rights commission has failed to bring any discernible improvement to or provide any protection for basic rights since its inception in 2009 and must be radically changed to strengthen its independence.

The human rights commission is holding a two-day session in Bangkok with civil society groups and other stakeholders regarding a review of its terms of reference. The consultations are take placing against the backdrop of a coup by the Thai military that resulted in the temporary jailing of more than 300 people on both sides of Thailand’s badly split society as well drastic curtailment of press freedoms, intimidation of the international press and threats against freedom of expression.

Since its inception as a loosely knit talking shop in 1967, ASEAN has never sought to go after any of its members on their approach to human rights. Indeed, when Burma came into ASEAN in 1997, it was one of the most repressive dictatorships on the planet. The members have sought to unify the region under what was called a “the ASEAN Way” based on “non-interference, informality, minimal institutionalization, consultation and consensus, non-use of force and non-confrontation.” While Burma has been a notable success in turning towards democracy, other members such as Cambodia and Vietnam remain unrepentantly dictatorial.

Thus as it has in a long string of Thai coups, ASEAN chose not to comment on the current crackdown Thailand. The closest it has come to any statement at all relating to Thai politics was last December in the middle of continuing turmoil when the organization issued a statement on calling “on all parties concerned to resolve the current situation through dialogue and consultations in a peaceful and democratic manner.”

The human rights commission is “still very, very far from a properly functioning regional human rights mechanism,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights President Eva Kusuma Sundari in a prepared release. But, she said, if the intergovernmental commission on human rights “is to bring us any closer to the concept of collective responsibility and collective prosperity, then it has to be given the mandate to act, and be independent from national governmental interference: its representatives must represent the people of Southeast Asia, not the governments.”

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