Transcript of Sen. Santiago's interview
After the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations hearing on the ASEAN Charter
The Committee on foreign affairs has decided to circulate a committee report for signature by the members recommending Senate concurrence for the ratification of the ASEAN Charter. Today, we heard several criticisms mostly based on the fact that Burma has not released Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and therefore any ASEAN Charter should contain provisions that are stronger than what are contained in it at present. At present, there is a human rights body but the charter confines itself to its creation and its provision than its terms of reference, that means its implementing rules and regulations shall follow. At this point, there is no clear definition on what the human rights body is authorized to do. This human rights body was the initiative of the Philippines and therefore, on the part of the Philippines, there could be no accusation that the charter will be a paper tiger because the Philippines fought very bravely to include this provision in the charter. It is incumbent now on these ASEAN members to establish this human rights body and go after the Myanmar issue.
The second is related to the first. The main objection was why does the ASEAN Charter enshrine the policy of non-intervention in internal affairs? That’s a very simple question to answer. The UN charter began when it was formally submitted with a clause concerning domestic jurisdiction, in effect, the provision of non-intervention in the proposed ASEAN Charter is simply an echo of that provision in the UN charter. Non-intervention is a logical outcome of state sovereignty. No state will allow in any document to which it is a party to, to allow any certain foreign entity to interfere with how it runs its own government.
Basically, the objections are in the nature of idealism versus reality. We wish it were a more perfect document, but because of the variated cultures of our region, it is very difficult to get a consensus on a document that will govern with legal force the affairs of these member governments. That’s the best we could do at this moment.
Ambassador Rosario Manalo of the ASEAN Charter Task Force: The ASEAN Charter provides the Association with a legal basis--a legal personality--which means that one, we can sue and be sued if it is internationally recognized, and secondly, that state parties will have the obligation to comply with whatever agreements or decisions are taken.
We think that this is a move forward from the loose association into this rules-based organization. The purpose of the Charter is to have the organization set up an ASEAN community which will be more effective in addressing the challenges and the risks confronting the region and the globalized world.
The Charter by itself is just a framework. It is envisioned that there will be subsequent protocols to flesh out the provisions of the charter. It is not an all-cure for certain, but it is certainly a base to build and strengthen further the region of the member states of Southeast Asia.
Commissioner Quisimbing of the Commission on Human Rights on why the Philippines supports the charter: The CHR welcomes the hearing on the Committee on Foreign Relations as well as your just announced intent to recommend the ratification to the committee members.
The criticism of the charter is that it sets up an ASEAN human rights mechanism but is vague on what its powers are going to be and what its mandate is going to be. However, this is the first time in history that an ASEAN body is even thinking of having a human rights body. Asia is the only region in the world that does not have a human rights body. We see this as a very important step and welcome the fact that the Philippines is the one that championed putting this into the charter and convinced countries like Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, which are less democratic, to even let it be put in this important charter for ASEAN. We do not expect that something as specific as the power of who will be members of an ASEAN mechanism, will be put in this. We can look at the Charter as a constitution, and as Ambassador Manalo said, the details of such a mechanism can be put down in future documents.
We in the Philippines, with our human rights orientation and our pledge to the UN to champion regional human rights cooperation and protection, will work for a strong mechanism, not one that’s just going to be advisory, all of that is still open for discussion. But the fact is all ten countries of ASEAN have agreed to at least take this very important step.
The ASEAN Charter is a legally binding document that is why we are pushing for it. Today, there is no such document or understanding that could provide the legal power to enable the rest of ASEAN to see to it that Myanmar complies with human rights laws. All the ten member states will comply if the ASEAN makes a declaration or issues a decision to take a certain course of action.
Labels: ASEAN, Commission on Human rights, foreign relations, international law, Miriam