The Politics of Human Rights in Southeast Asia

By Philip J. Eldridge | Go to book overview

3

ASEAN and international human rights

The chapter begins with an overview of regional perspectives on UN human rights regimes, drawing out links with Asian values and opposition thereto identified in Chapter 2. Brief comparison of the five UN Security Council permanent members' stance provides a benchmark for assessing individual ASEAN countries' participation in major covenants and conventions. Cambodia, which has accepted extensive UN compliance monitoring as part of its international rehabilitation and Myanmar, 1 which has outraged international opinion by extreme human rights abuses, are the focus of special study. ASEAN's stance towards these two countries illustrates deep contradictions in its human rights outlook. The chapter concludes by assessing the emerging roles of national human rights institutions and associated regional networks, particularly their capacity to link ASEAN states with UN human rights regimes.


Regional outlook towards UN human rights regimes

The consensus principle, which lies at the core of ASEAN's ethos and practice, requires countries to avoid interference in each others' internal affairs and to cooperate in resisting outside intervention. However, finding consensus at either pragmatic or normative levels is proving elusive, as ASEAN states find it easier to engage in polemical debates with the west than to come up with practical alternative approaches (Acharya 1995:173, 179). Asian values rhetoric only thinly disguises the lack of agreed core values and the pervasiveness of inter-ethnic and religious rivalry across Southeast Asia.

The need to formulate a regional response to a UN sponsored global human rights consultation in 1993 significantly sharpened Asian values advocacy. Reluctance to engage in direct confrontation with the UN as an institution was managed by stressing national sovereignty, protesting against western, particularly US dominance, and demanding reforms of the UN, including broader Security Council representation and reducing or eliminating the veto powers of the five permanent members (Camilleri et al. 2000:27).

Several ASEAN governments have criticised the 1948 UDHR on the grounds that many states were not yet independent and had no part in its formulation. Assertions of universalism are portrayed as deriving from western philosophical

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