JAKARTA ~ Parliament ratified the Southeast Asian charter this week, committing ASEAN member nations to promote democracy and human rights, clearing the way for its formal adoption before year’s end.
The country was the last member of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations to ratify the charter, which also sets out rules, transforms ASEAN into a legal entity and envisages a single free trade area by 2015.
It is now expected to be formally adopted at the regional bloc’s annual summit in Bangkok in December.
But opponents in Indonesia criticized it as a purely symbolic document with no power to bring real democratic reform to errant members like military-ruled Myanmar.
Lawmakers said they had ratified it with four key conditions which will be submitted for further discussion, aimed at strengthening the charter and setting serious consequences for rule-breakers.
“The charter is open to amendments in the future and we can always fine-tune them along the way,” Foreign Minister Hasan Wirajuda said.
He said he hoped the charter would bring human rights improvements in rogue ASEAN states like Myanmar.
“Once the charter is formed, we will see how serious Myanmar is in making its roadmap to democracy. We will see if it keeps to its promise,” he said.
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The charter will give the bloc, much maligned as a pointless talking shop, greater clout in international negotiations but critics argue black sheep like Myanmar will continue to get away with gross human rights abuses.
Its proposed new rights body is toothless and the charter has no provision to sanction members such as Myanmar, where the junta has kept democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the past 18 years.
Myanmar ratified the charter amid much fanfare at an ASEAN ministerial conference in Singapore in July.
The country’s secretive junta is under European Union and United States sanctions over its long record of human rights abuses.
Lawmaker Marzuki Darusman, who was on the committee that helped draft the ratification law, said Indonesia must show “solidarity” with other member states on the charter but it still wanted changes.
“Some members of the parliament feel that as a big country we have been pressured to address the Myanmar issue so that it will conform to international norms,” he said.
“We have to show that ratification is not just a formality… Non-compliance should not just be set aside, ignored or allowed to happen without responsibility.”
Among Indonesia’s conditions was the establishment of a rights body that “conforms to international standards” and provision for the suspension of non-compliant members, Darusman said.
ASEAN should also consider the possibility of decision-making by majority vote rather than consensus.
Asmara Nababan, head of the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights in Jakarta, said the charter was a step forward even if it needed improvements.
“This is a milestone for Indonesia and ASEAN and it will put human rights more at the centre of the agenda,” he said.
“But there is a lot of work to do to make it more effective in the promotion and protection of human rights if you compare the region to Europe and the United States.”