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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights doc a go, says minister

Rights doc a go, says minister

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Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong speaks in Phnom Penh, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2012. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

A controversial human-rights declaration and the establishment of a regional mine action centre are among the top items expected to be signed off on during the ASEAN summit, according to Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

Speaking to journalists at a briefing on the five-day summit that kicked off yesterday, Namhong said the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration would get the go-ahead in spite of fervent protest from civil society, which has slammed the document for failing to protect basic rights.

“This is the first time ASEAN has had this declaration, and I think it is good that ASEAN will have an official document on the declaration of human rights,” he said.

“In the future, in case it is necessary, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights can hold more meetings with NGOs and civil society to improve the current declaration.”

Namhong said the bloc felt it had already incorporated significant input from non-government players.

But as the expected sign-off inches forward, rights groups said yesterday they continued to view the document as too flawed to pass.

“Some points we cannot accept as is,” Thida Khus, the executive director of Silaka and secretary-general of the Committee to Promote Women in Politics, said.

Khus, who has had countless discussions with the joint government/non-government body tasked with drafting the document, said civil society remained quite clear on its stance.

“We do not see the declaration to be at the international standard, as claimed by the leaders of Asean,” she said.

In a statement issued yesterday, 62 local and international groups, including Amnesty International, Adhoc and the International Federation for Human Rights, called for a delay in the declaration’s passage, “which is not worthy of its name”.

Namhong also told yesterday’s briefing that ministers expected to sign off on the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Mine Action Centre.

“Among the 10 bloc state members, six countries have problems with landmines, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar,” Namhong said.

For decades, Southeast Asia has continued to battle landmines and unexploded ordnance. In Cambodia alone, during the first nine months of the year 37 people were killed and 106 injured by the remnants of war, according to the Cambodian Mine Victim Information Service.

Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, said he believed the establishment of a regional centre would speed mine-clearing operations in some of the most heavily contaminated countries in Asean.   

“The number of casualties in Cambodia remains high, Myanmar as well, and in Vietnam, as well as Laos, we see the scope of disaster is similar.”

The controversial South China Sea issue, which remains unsettled, would also be discussed between the leaders of ASEAN and China, Namhong said.

“All parties have agreed to settle the dispute peacefully, without the use of force, so there will be no more hot issue. The parties involved have already agreed to follow the principle of the [non-binding] Declaration of Conduct, so other counties are not involved, and we have to support them,” he said.

Although observers have accused the regional bloc of dragging its feet in signing a decade-in-the-works binding Code of Conduct governing disputes in the contentious body of water, Namhong insisted work continued apace.

“Cambodia, as chair of Asean, tries its best, and they cannot say Cambodia is ignoring resolving the issue of the South China Sea,” he said.

In July, the body failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in its history amid contention over how the South China Sea issue was being addressed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cheang Sokha at sokha.cheang@phnompenhpost.com

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