ASEAN Charter to Include Human Rights Commission

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have agreed during their annual meeting in Manila to create a human rights body in the draft of ASEAN's first ever charter. VOA correspondent Nancy-Amelia Collins is in the Philippine capital and brings us this report.

The agreement moves the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, closer to having its first charter.

The deal reached Monday by the foreign ministers of the 10 ASEAN members overcame fierce objections from Burma's military government.

Burma, which has long been condemned by many governments, including the European Union and the United States, for its poor human rights record, initially objected to the creation of the human rights commission.

Some other ASEAN members want to avoid close scrutiny of human rights, including Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, which all have authoritarian or single-party governments.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo says the details will need to be worked out later but confirmed a consensus had been reached to include the rights body in the organization's charter.

"We have to establish a sense of reference and discuss specifics, however, we did establish a human rights body."

ASEAN is drafting its first charter so it can become a more rules-based organization similar to the European Union. The charter, which needs to be ratified during a leader's meeting in November, will bestow a legal identity to ASEAN for international negotiations and transactions.

Among other things, the charter promotes free trade and economic integration and incorporates a 10-year-old treaty banning nuclear weapons in the region.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stressed the importance of the grouping for regional security.

"Historically the European Union has shown how a region beset by conflict can become a force for peace and security and prosperity," said Arrroyo. "So, too, in our region that has faced many of the same historic divisions. A more united region will aid in the same. ASEAN has proven that it can make a difference for peace and security in Asia."

The ASEAN countries are the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Laos, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore.

The foreign ministers will spend the next two days meeting with other Asian nations and leading partners, including the U.S., before holding the ASEAN Regional Forum on Thursday.