Current Affairs Discussion
Term 3 Weeks 8 & 10 – Upper Secondary
ProEd, Aphelion (Week 8, 20 Aug)
Ortus, iSpark (Week 10, 3 Sept)
ASEAN – A Paper Tiger?
The Central Issue
ASEAN’s role as an economic organization representing South-East Asian nations has
evolved into an increasingly vibrant one, recently including aims to promote native cultures,
enhance cross-border diplomatic ties, as well as strategic agreements that go beyond the
economic sphere of foreign relations. However, awry developments in human rights issues in
various countries have seen governments and non-governmental organisations worldwide
reach out to ASEAN in an attempt to prod ASEAN into firm action against human rights abuses.
Yet, the ASEAN charter explicitly states and reinforces the principle of non-intervention, as
well as having consensus-based agreements on actions to be undertaken by ASEAN. As such,
these have effectively shielded countries with extremely poor human rights records such as
Myanmar and Vietnam. This has drawn flak from the international community because of
ASEAN’s refusal to intervene in human rights abuses in her member nations. An example of
such was the suspension of talks with regards to the free trade agreements between the
European Union and ASEAN. This issue highlighted a severe problem in the way ASEAN
deals with human rights abuses amongst members of her community, and this has ultimately
led critics worldwide to coin the term “Paper Tiger” as a derogatory description for ASEAN as
The Debate Topic
Is ASEAN a Paper Tiger?
THBT ASEAN is a Paper Tiger that is increasingly irrelevant in the international arena
What is ASEAN’s original role? Is it still relevant today, or should its roles/aims be
Should ASEAN have the power to intervene in the human rights abuses in her own
member nations? What are the consequences of enabling her to do so?
On what grounds do the critics base their claims that ASEAN is a Paper Tiger? Are they
justified in using Westernised, First World ideals to judge a largely Asian, Developing
To what extent should regional organisations intervene in the internal affairs of other
countries? Where is this line being drawn?
Will the human rights abuses in the countries involved be necessarily resolved through
the use of force by ASEAN?
Panellist Point of View
He will have to defend ASEAN’s
insistence on preserving the principle
of non-intervention by justifying that
the conflicts ongoing in ASEAN are
ASEAN Chair, Abhisit Vejjajiva intractable, and any action from
ASEAN would only be
counterproductive. Might want to
consider using the progress with
Myanmar as an example.
Believes that the human rights
abuses in Myanmar and Vietnam are
too blatant to ignore, and will want to
European Union Spokesman force ASEAN to take concrete action
against the two countries to get them
to clean up their human rights
Believes that ASEAN is not doing
enough to help fight human rights
abuses, even though it has a Human
Representative of Amnesty Rights charter, and will try and push
International for concrete action to be taken by
ASEAN, whilst offering humanitarian
aid for the countries involved.
Tries to play the mediator in the
discussion by pointing out that the
human rights abuses are inherently
intractable conflicts and any action by
Mr George Yeo, Singapore Minister
ASEAN would trigger an inevitably
for Foreign Affairs
negative response from the country,
but also respecting the need to
uphold human rights for pragmatic
purposes on an international level.
Expresses the need to clamp down
on dissident influences due to the
need to maintain stability in the
country, and that the human rights
Spokesman for the Burmese Military abuses are justified as long as the
Junta country benefits in the long run. May
wish to consider other arguments to
help to justify the abuses in the first
place. Try to use Thailand as an
The Debate Proceedings
The Chairman of the session will initiate the session by presenting an e-book to provide an
introductory brief on the issue for about 20 minutes.
The Chairman will then open the discussion to the various panelists for 3-4 minutes each. The
session will subsequently be opened to the floor for the rest of the duration. Panelists can
continue contributing and responding to comments even during the floor discussion.
The Chairman has the option of concluding the debate with some personal remarks, offering a
As always, it is sincerely hoped that panellists will stay in character throughout the discussion,
much as it may be tempting to jump in with different points.
A simple flowchart follows to illustrate the order of events:
Chairman introduces the topic for
15-20 minutes using the Koobits
e-book provided by the CA Team Panelist #1
Chairman opens the debate,
invites five panelists for a total of Panelist #3
3-4 minutes each.
Chair now opens the discussion Panelist #5
to the floor for the remaining
duration of time.
Chair and observers perform a
brief summary of the entire
The articles that should be read are:
1) Myanmar just one side of the EU-ASEAN coin
2) The ASEAN Charter: Much Achieved, Much More Needs to Be Done
3) Southeast Asia: Regional Human Rights Body with Teeth or a Paper Tiger?
4) Asean not to interfere Cambodia-Thailand conflict.
Thurlow, F (2000, December 9). Myanmar just one side of the EU-ASEAN coin. Retrieved
January 6, 2010, from Asia Times web site: http://www.atimes.com/reports/BL09Ai01.html
ASEAN Secretariat. (2009, December 16). The ASEAN Charter: Much Achieved, Much More
Needs to Be Done. Retrieved January 6, 2010, from ASEAN Secretariat site:
Macan-Markar, M. (2007, 31 July). Southeast Asia: Regional Human Rights Body with Teeth or
a Paper Tiger? Retrieved January 6, 2010, from East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
International Institute for Journalism of InWEnt. (2008, November 24). Asean not to interfere
Cambodia-Thailand conflict. Retrieved January 6, 2010, from The Daily IIJ website:
Myanmar just one side of the EU-Asean coin
By Fred Thurlow
1. Ministerial meeting
2. The EU position on Myanmar
3. EU-Asean relations
1. Ministerial meeting Fifteen foreign ministers from the European Union (EU) and 10 from the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are due to meet for two days in the Laos capital of
Vientiane beginning December 11 - their first gathering since talks were suspended in 1997.
Issues scheduled for discussion include drug problems, human trafficking, science and technology,
customs, intellectual property rights, negotiations at the World Trade Organization, human resources
development and "political troubles and security'', according to a Thai Foreign ministry spokesman.
Central to the political troubles will be Myanmar. The EU, in protest against Myanmar joining Asean
in 1997, suspended the ministerial-level talks which have been an integral part of the EU-Asean
relationship since their introduction 22 years ago. The EU has refused to sit down with Myanmar's
ruling military junta due to the poor human rights situation in the country and what it terms an
absence of democratic processes.
However, earlier this year the EU, in a major change of policy, while beefing up its sanctions against
Myanmar (see below), decided not to let "the issue of Burma [Myanmar] hold the EU-Asean
Consequently, the EU now "continues to explore avenues for encouraging a move towards
democracy and a better respect for human rights, including the possibility of engaging in direct
discussions with the government of Myanmar on these issues".
As French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said at the time: "We're shooting ourselves in the foot by
linking the Asean dialogue with the question of Myanmar." Nevertheless, British Minister for State
and Commonwealth Affairs, John Battle, who will attend the Laos meeting, said in Vietnam this
week that Britain intends to make Myanmar the primary focus of the summit.
He said Asean's stance of non-interference in Myanmar's affairs was unsustainable and warned
Yangon's generals they were accountable for rights violations and socio-economic affairs. Battle also
said he would be looking for understanding among the 10 Asean members that Myanmar had become
a regional problem they could no longer brush off as the country's internal affairs.
However, Vietnam, the current chair of Asean, said it was not aware Myanmar was on the agenda of
the meeting and reiterated the regional bloc's position that Asean will not raise this issue and "Asean
considers it Myanmar's internal affairs".
"In their relations with Asean, dialogue partners always respect Asean's position, and it is our hope
that the EU will do the same when touching on the internal situation in Myanmar," Vietnam's Foreign
Battle also stressed, though, that the EU and ASEAN were looking for a new approach towards
Myanmar, adding the intention in Vientiane would not be "to simply turn up and blame [Myanmar]
and say we think you are a form of moral evil".
"What we need to see is an opening of [Myanmar] so we're trying to find ways to actually prize the
situation open by using the political power that's in the region - they are a member of Asean," Battle
was quoted as saying.
In November, Asean leaders took a firm stand at their annual summit to reject any dialogue with the
EU if it excluded the presence of Myanmar. Malaysia in particular has been vocal, even threatening
to send a junior delegate.
Ministers within Asean have formally agreed on the urgency of intensifying Asean-EU economic
cooperation. Asean originally proposed the ministerial meeting, the 13th, be held in Laos in
November, but France - which holds the current chairmanship of the EU - suggested December.
Laos assumed the role of Asean-EU coordinator, succeeding Thailand, earlier this year.
Asean's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
2. The EU position on Myanmar
The EU initially imposed sanctions because of the treatment of the opposition led by Nobel peace
laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party won an election in 1990 by a landslide but the military ignored
the result and detained many of its members.
Following ongoing concern over violations of human rights and the lack of progress towards
democracy in Myanmar, the EU in October 1996 defined a common position towards the country.
The position has been reassessed, and in some cases modified, every six months since then.
* Ban on military personnel attached to diplomatic representations in the EU.
* Ban on entry and transit visas for senior members of the ruling military junta, the State Peace and
Development Council and their families and to authorities in the tourism sector.
* Ban on entry and transit visas for senior members of the military or security forces who
formulate, implement or benefit from polices that impede Myanmar's transition to democracy, and
* Freezing of funds held in the EU belonging to the two above categories.
* Suspension of high-level bilateral government (ministers and officials at the level of political
director and above) visits to Myanmar.
* An embargo on equipment that might be used for internal repression or terrorism.
* A suspension of cooperation programs other than humanitarian assistance, although exceptions
may be made for projects in support of human rights and democracy and the provision of basic needs
for the poorest sections of the population. Currently, US$6 million has been earmarked for
humanitarian assistance, mainly to refugees. However, the aid can only be provided when
circumstances permitted; that is, a certain degree of cooperation from the ruling regime is required.
Tourism: At the General Affairs Council of October 26, 1998, the EU extended an entry and transit
visa ban to Myanmar authorities in the tourism sector. At the same time, the EU stated that it is
inappropriate for tourists to visit Myanmar.
The EU has not gone as far as imposing any trade, investment or financial sanctions on Myanmar.
However, its Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP), which allowed Myanmese exports to the EU
preferential tariff treatment, was withdrawn in March 1997. This followed complaints by the
European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions (ICFTU) and a subsequent investigation by the European Commission into the use of forced
labor in Myanmar.
In April 2000, EU foreign ministers tightened sanctions against Burma following a routine six-
monthly review of the sanctions in Luxembourg. The ministers extended for a further six months a
ban on letting various Myanmar officials visit EU countries. The visa ban had been due to expire at
the end of April. In moves led by Britain and Denmark to tighten the sanctions, the ministers banned
the export of "equipment that might be used for internal repression or terrorism''. They also agreed to
publish the names of the officials affected by the visa ban and to impose a freeze on any funds held
abroad by these people.
However, in a conciliatory gesture, reflecting the desire of some member states for a broader political
dialogue as a way of putting pressure on Myanmar, EU ministers stressed the importance of the EU-
The ministers also agreed the EU "troika", its top foreign policy team, should visit Myanmar to
explain and promote the aims of the EU's policy towards the country, but set no date. They also
agreed to ask the EU's executive European Commission to look at the possibilities for increased
cooperation with Myanmar but gave no details.
3. EU-Asean relations
The European Union is one of Asean's most important economic partners. Asean-EU trade was $89.9
billion in 1999 and investment from the EU totaled $4.1 billion in 1998.
The European Economic Community (EEC) was the first dialogue partner to establish informal
relations with Asean in 1972 through the Special Coordinating Committee of Asean (SCCAN). On
May 7, 1975, an Asean-EEC Joint Study Group (JSG) was formed to look into collaborative
endeavors between the two regions.
In February 1977, the Special Meeting of Asean Foreign Ministers in Manila proposed that Asean
establish ties with the Council of Ministers of the EEC and the Committee of Permanent
Representatives (COREPER) through which Asean could make representations against the growing
protectionism of the EEC countries. Asean's relationship with the EEC was also formalized in that
The relationship took an important step forward when the then German vice chancellor and foreign
minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher proposed to the then Thai foreign minister and chairman of the
Asean Standing Committee Upadit Panchariyangkun that regular contacts between Asean and EEC
be raised to the ministerial level. Subsequently, the 1st Asean-EEC Ministerial Meeting was held in
Brussels in September 1978.
The links with the EEC were institutionalized in March 1980 with the signing of the EC-Asean
Cooperation Agreement at the Second Asean-EEC Ministerial Meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Under the
Agreement, objectives for commercial, economic and technical cooperation were established and a
Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) was formed as a mechanism to monitor Asean-EEC cooperation.
The agreement is signed by the EU on the one hand and the individual countries of Asean on the
other. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam were the
initial signatories, with Laos and Cambodia acceding in July 2000. The EU will not negotiate an
extension of the agreement to Myanmar over human rights concerns.
Participation in the agreement allows parties to be involved in EU-Asean cooperation activities,
mainly in the economic field.To further boost trade and investment links between the EU and Asean,
both sides are working on a number of projects designed to enhance trade and economic flows
between the two regions.
In this context, the EU supports a number of programs dealing with trade, sectoral cooperation
(energy, aviation), business links, and education. Discussions regarding ongoing and future activities
take place within the JCC, which are held approximately every 18 months.The 13th JCC took place
in Bangkok in May 1999. The EU currently contributes about $125 million to ongoing EU-Asean co-
Asean-EU relations intensified in 1994. The 11th Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting (AEMM) in
Karlsruhe, Germany in September 1994 was a landmark meeting as the meeting agreed to the
creation of an ad hoc Eminent Persons Group (EPG), with members drawn from both regions, to
develop a comprehensive approach to Asean-EU political and security, economic and cultural
relations towards the year 2000 and beyond.
The "spirit of Karlsruhe" also provided the momentum for the First Meeting of the Asean-EU Senior
Officials (SOM) in Singapore in 1995, the 12th Asean-EC JCC in Brussels, Belgium in October 1995
and the Second Meeting of the Asean-EU SOM in 1996 in Dublin, Ireland, where frank discussions
were held on a wide range of issues, including sensitive topics.
The launch of the New Asia Strategy in 1994 and the declaration that Asean would remain the
cornerstone of the EUs dialogue with countries in Asia at the Karlsruhe meeting set the stage for the
convening of the first Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) which held its inaugural summit in Bangkok in
March 1996 as well as the first Asem Foreign Ministers Meeting in Singapore in February 1997,
where Asean played a pivotal role.
Another important step in the Asia-Europe partnership was the launching of the Asia-Europe
Foundation (Asef) based in Singapore in February 1997, which will foster greater people-to-people
relations and develop institutional linkages between Asia and Europe.
The New Dynamic: The so-called New Dynamic was launched at the EU-Asean Ministerial Meeting
in Singapore in February 1997 to set both sides on a path to greater cooperation. The Joint
Declaration promised a deeper political dialogue, co-operation in international fora and the
importance of enhanced economic cooperation.
The main achievement of the JCC meeting in Bangkok in May 1999 was the adoption of a work
program to implement the New Dynamic. This program, drawn up by the European Commission,
focuses on practical ways of increasing business and trade ties between the two groups, for example
* Enabling trade experts from both sides to talk to each other in a pragmatic, constructive and non-
confrontational manner on market access issues;
* Negotiating a protocol on customs cooperation and mutual administrative assistance;
* Negotiating a protocol on quality, safety and sanitary standards, certification procedures and
* Developing efforts to facilitate the liberalization of trade in services, and;
* Exchanging views on investment and capital flows intra-regional cooperation
The EU has been a longstanding dialogue partner of Asean. This entails regular EU-Asean
Ministerial meetings, EU participation in the Post Ministerial Conferences which take place
immediately after Asean's annual ministerial meetings and in the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) - the
only security forum in Asia. The EU is a full member of the ARF.
Since 1978 EU-Asean Ministerial Meetings have taken place every two years, and since 1995 it has
been agreed that EU-Asean senior officials would meet between ministerial meetings.
Regular dialogue between Asean and European Commission (EC) senior officials on multilateral
trade and on market access issues began in 2000.
Cooperation between the EU and Asean embraces a wide variety of areas and programs, such as:
Standards: EC-Asean Standards, Quality and Conformity Assessment Program (ISQAPII) -
encourages economic cooperation in areas of industrial standards and quality assurance;
Intellectual property: The EC-Asean Intellectual Property Program signed bilaterally between the EC
and Asean member countries aims to achieve adequate and effective protection of intellectual
Trade in services: EC-Asean Cooperation in Maritime Transport facilitates the free flow of services
in the spirit of World Trade Organization and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs. There is
also a an EC-Asia Civil Aviation Cooperation Program;
Investment and business cooperation: Asia-Invest supports the promotion of investment in Asia
(including Asean) and helps SMEs do business with each other through projects such as the Asean-
EU Partenariat and Asia-Interprise;
Energy: Cogen - accelerating implementation of proven cogeneration technologies - and the Asean
Center for Energy - increasing energy cooperation between the two regions;
Environment: Asean Regional Center for Biodiversity Conservation - enhancing the capacity of
Asean countries to promote conservation; Regional Institute of Environmental Technology - fosters
technology transfer and links in the environment field;
Development Cooperation: Aid efforts to alleviate pockets of poverty in Asean countries through
rural and social development programs as well as the social impacts of the economic crisis;
Inter-regional strategy: Institutional Program for the Asean Secretariat (IDPAS) - providing technical
support for the Asean Secretariat;
Education and training: Asean-EC Management Center, Brunei; Postgraduate Technological Studies
Program, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok; European Studies Programs, Thailand and
Malaysia. The Asean-EU University Networks Program will build links between educational
institutions in the two regions, and;
Science and technology: 5th Framework Program on Research and Technological Development -
examines science and technology priorities for Asean countries.
(Special to Asia Times Online)
The ASEAN Charter: Much Achieved, Much More Needs to Be Done
ASEAN Secretariat, 16 December 2009
ASEAN has achieved much in the one year since the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter, but
much more needs to be done in the coming years before the region fulfils the dream of the ASEAN
Leaders of an integrated ASEAN Community by 2015.
This was the sentiments that was expressed by three panellists at the 2nd ASEAN Secretariat Policy
Forum – “The ASEAN Charter: One Year On”, held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on 16
December 2009. The panel consisted of Tun Musa Hitam, Chairman of the Eminent Persons Group
on the Charter, and Ambassador Rosario G. Manalo and Ambassador Tommy Koh, Chairpersons of
the High Level Task Force on the Drafting of the Charter. All of them shared their thoughts with
some 300 guests on not only their experiences on working on the Charter process but also how much
ASEAN had achieved in the past year since the ASEAN Charter came into force on 15 December
The panellists generally shared the view that the Charter has benefited ASEAN. “I would argue that
the Charter is substantively a new document and has already had an impact on ASEAN, said
Ambassador Tommy Koh, in refuting critics who had described the ASEAN Charter as a paper tiger.
Ambassador Manalo was also positive on the impact of the Charter to date. “The Charter is not
perfect in current form and substance, but it brings ASEAN to a new level,” she said.
Both Ambassadors Tommy Koh and Manalo also lauded the many accomplishments since the entry
into force of the Charter, one of which was the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental
Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). The human rights body, which was called for in Article 14
of the ASEAN Charter, was launched by the ASEAN Leaders at the 15th ASEAN Summit in
Thailand in October 2009. Describing it as a “process of evolution”, they said that the AICHR would
have to evolve at a pace comfortable to all the members of the ASEAN family, and it would begin
with education and the promotion of human rights and gradually take up the more challenging task of
Several other achievements in the wake of the ASEAN Charter, such as the establishment of the
Jakarta-based Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) to ASEAN, which will coordinate a
broad range of ASEAN issues, and the greater involvement of parliamentarians, the business
community, civil society organisations and youths in making ASEAN a people-oriented organisation
However, the panellists also urged that ASEAN do a lot more on social issues. Describing education
as an equalising force and that ASEAN should support the learning of ASEAN languages and student
exchanges, Ambassador Manalo questioned, “How successful has ASEAN been in this area?” The
issue of education was also on the mind of Tun Musa, who voiced concern on the potential situation
of a large number of young people in the region who are educated but unemployed. “ASEAN would
need to prioritise human resource needs in the region and organise the content of our teaching,” he
Other social issues such as health, the environment, disaster management and labour mobility within
ASEAN, were also highlighted as important areas for ASEAN to focus on. “We have to do the things
that we declare we would do and to fill the stomach of the people of ASEAN in order to enjoy the
good life,” Tun Musa stressed.
Looking back, Ambassador Tommy Koh noted that it would be fair to say that the Charter had got off
to a good start. Is the Charter a paper tiger? “I think it would be more accurate to say that the one-
year-old tiger cub is well, thriving and full of promise,” he concluded.
Southeast Asia: Regional Human Rights Body with Teeth or a Paper Tiger?
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK - At first glance, it appeared that South-east Asian governments were determined to
strengthen the language of human rights across the region. A meeting of foreign ministers in Manila
declared that a regional rights body would be part of a new charter for the 10-member bloc to be
approved at a summit in November.
But on closer scrutiny, human rights groups and members of opposition parties say that the
Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) will have to spell out the powers of such an entity
if this initiative to be taken seriously. Such details have yet to be worked out, officials at the ongoing
ASEAN ministerial meeting in the Philippines capital told the press.
"They need to give this human rights body investigating powers to look at violations committed in
any ASEAN country and to have powers to seek corrective measures," says Basil Fernando,
executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a non-governmental watchdog.
"There must also be a proper mechanism in place for victims to submit complaints for the
commission to investigate."
These features will be hard to sidestep, since the ASEAN human rights body will be judged by the
standards set by similar regional commissions created elsewhere, he explained during a telephone
interview from Hong Kong, where the AHRC is based. "There are regional human rights bodies in
Africa and South America that have powers to investigate and more."
"Civil society groups who have long campaigned for such a body will follow the events over the next
few months as ASEAN gives shape to this regional human rights commission," Debbie Stothard,
head of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN), a regional rights lobby, told IPS.
"It is too early to cheer because the creation of the commission for now seems to be more like an
agreement of a policy to do so."
The governments should know that "even a paper tiger will not be able to cover up the glaring human
rights violations in the region," she added, referring to language common in South-east Asia to
describe laws that sound strong on paper but are weak in application. "Human rights even in the more
progressive ASEAN countries leave a lot to be desired," Stothard said.
Typical among them is Singapore, the most affluent ASEAN member, which will be hosting the
bloc's annual summit in November. The new rights body is due to be confirmed as part of ASEAN's
first regional charter. Opposition political figures -- for whom a human rights commission is
important in the wake of regular harassment --have not been included in discussions to create this
"The opposition and civil society groups in Singapore are concerned because their views were not
sought regards the commission," Chee Siok Chin, a ranking member of the opposition Singapore
Democratic Party (SDP), said in a telephone interview from the city-state. "We have only heard the
views from the establishment."
Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia were the original members of ASEAN, set
up 40 years ago to strengthen regional economic ties and act as a bulwark against the spread of
communism in the region. Of them, Indonesia currently tops the list of nations advancing on the
human rights and democracy fronts. Malaysia and Singapore, by contrast, have governments known
for authoritarian features, where freedom of expression is regularly under threat or non-existent.
The members who joined since 1967 are Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. With the
exception of Cambodia, these countries do not offer space for political and civil liberties. Brunei has
an absolute monarchy, while Laos and Vietnam are under the grip of communist parties since the
It is military-ruled Burma, admitted to ASEAN a decade ago, that looms as the test-case to measure
how meaningful the new regional rights body is. "The human rights violations in Burma should be
among the first cases the new commission should investigate," says AHRC's Fernando. "It is a good
test case, because Burma ranks as one of the human rights violators on the global scale."
Former Burmese political prisoners drew ASEAN's attention on a related front Monday, when they
said that the very day the agreement for the new human rights body was approved, Jul. 30, the
Burmese junta cracked down on human rights activists in the country.
A private teacher was sentenced to three years imprisonment and fined because "he let members of
Human Rights Defenders and Promoters have a human rights training at his place," according to the
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
Burma is holding more than 1,100 political prisoners, has placed under house arrest for over 11 years
the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and has crushed all signs of dissent for years. The junta
has also gained notoriety for using rape as a weapon of war against minority communities,
commandeering thousands into slave-like forced labour camps and prevented international
humanitarian groups aiding the weak.
Such abuse has been known by the other ASEAN governments, who opted to defend Burma from
international criticism after it joined the bloc in 1997. But since 2003, the spirit of cordiality began to
fray, as ASEAN was taken to task by the European Union, the U.S. government and at international
summits for permitting the oppression in Burma.
Led by Malaysia, originally a major supporter of Burma's membership into the bloc, ASEAN
governments turned the heat on their recalcitrant neighbour.
This week's announcement to create a regional rights body confirmed ASEAN's temperament
towards the military regime. "ASEAN had shielded the Burmese military from international criticism
in the past, but the regime has become a source of shame and embarrassment. They cannot do it
anymore," Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst living in exile, told IPS. "Burma has to
accept the changes."
The Burmese people will benefit if the new rights commission proves to be independent and effective,
he added. "People are arrested there for small things which would be taken for granted in other
countries -- even for having a suspicious look -- due to the draconian laws."
Asean not to interfere Cambodia-Thailand conflict
November 24th, 2008
Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) will not interfere Cambodia-Thailand border
dispute, although it already emerged in to arm conflict and threats to the region’s security. Cambodia
already asked Asean to step in but Thailand as one of the alliance founding fathers rejected the idea,
and made Asean lost its power.
“Thailand rejected to solve this conflict through Asean, because they think it’s better to do it
bilateraly,” Termsak Charlermpalanupap said, refering to Thailand official rejection to Asean. The
Special Assistant for Secretary General of Asean thinks this rejection mainly because of alliance
structure which not has dispute settlement mechanism yet. Bilateral conflict or internal affairs
settlement among members indeed already stated in Asean Charter fully ratified this month, but the
charter itself still need to be enter in to force during the next Chiang Mai Summit.
Since Asean first founded in 1967, this alliance is implementing Asean Way principal, which one of
its consensus is to respect each member sovereignty. This principal was useful during the time, when
South Asia region was dragged in to the battle of two world superpowers. Asean Way became the
barrier to keep each countries independence, although at the same time it limited Asean’s power from
interfering its members too much.
Asean expert, Professor Martin Loeffelholz from Universitas Ilmenau, Germany analyzed Asean
Way has a big contribution in unifying its members, with all their big differences in political
perspectives. Unlike 27 homogeneous members of European Union, Asean has to deal with
diversities. The emerging democracy of Indonesia and Philipine must stay and coorperate in one
body with authoritarian Myanmar and absolute monarchy of Brunei Darussalam. In these terms,
Asean Way has became a way of solution to unify these 10 countries in the region.
“Although Asean often stated as the paper tiger, they actually successful enough to maintain peace
and stability in the region,” Loffelholf said, reffering to the fact after 1967 up till now the countries in
South East Asia were no longer confrontate each other.
Now the success story is stained by Cambodia-Thailand dispute. Asean face is getting a bad name in
world public specially when Cambodia went to UN after failing ask for the region alliance’s help.
Asean can no longer be proud of its biggest achievement.
The Special Assistant Termsak admits there’s a concern among Asean’s leaders regarding this issue.
Asean’s need to interfere its member’s internal affairs indeed has been discussed among the leaders.
They do acknowledge that every time an internal affairs problem happened, Asean doesn’t have
authority to solve it. Singapore-Malaysia drinking water dispute or migrant workers issues between
Indonesia-Malaysia were only settled bilateral. The same pattern also happened when Asean is
powerless regarding the old time border conflict between Malaysia with Indonesia, Philipine and
Since 2003, concerns finally appeared to public through Bali Concorde II. The agreement become the
foundation of Asean integration community and force the need to ratify Asean Charter. Unfortunately,
although the charter try to put teeth on the paper tiger, it still stated typical concensus of not
interfering each countries sovereignty.
The Special Assistant Termsak himself still sees Asean Charter as the alliance big achievement. He
said the non interfering each sovereignty consensus is balance with the chapter of members’s
commitment and responsibility to enhacing regional peace. With this chapter Asean gain rights to
step in to Cambodia and Thailand conflict by asking their responsibility to maintain peace in the
Still a road block is heading towards Asean. Another chapter stated any dispute negotiation in Asean
still requires willingness from the countries involved in it. Thailand rejection means a closed door for
Asean. Two weeks ago Thailand and Cambodia already started to negotiate their conflict border
bilateral, without any third party interfering. Putting the alliance behind as an observer of how the
process is going.
Published in Jurnal Nasional, International page