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Video connects Asean states

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090303_02.jpg

Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan spoke to groups in eight of 10 member states during the weekend summit.

Photo by:

SOVANN PHILONG 

Participants at the Phnom Penh video conference watch Surin Pitsuwan speak from Bangkok on Monday morning.

THE video conference had an informal air with the resolutely cheerful moderator joking with the Indonesian team about their batik shirts and maintaining a running commentary on which traffic jam the Asean secretary general was stuck in. But when Surin Pitsuwan did eventually arrive - some 45 minutes late - his speech was, participants concurred, worth waiting for.

Emphasising the shift in the regional body's attitude - from being a talking shop for regional leaders to a participatory, people-orientated organisation - Surin Pituwan spoke, via video link, to groups of students, journalists and civil society representatives in eight of the group's 10 member states - Brunei and Myanmar did not participate.

He hailed the "Herculean task" achieved by the drafters of the body's new charter, saying they had a difficult task to accommodate the bloc's "tremendous diversity".

"It [charter] is a good beginning," Surin Pitsuwan said, speaking Monday at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

"It includes the ideal of a human rights mechanism [which will function] independently and efficiently."   

The Asean charter, which emphasises the "protection and promotion" of human rights, has laid good foundations for a proposed human rights mechanism and could ensure the group's future human rights body is independent, accountable and effective.

However, whether this happens will depend on the readiness of member states and the pressure that people will put on their respective governments.

Local support for rights

Nay Vanda, head of the advocacy section of the rights group Adhoc who attended the Phnom Penh video conference, said in Cambodia there remain many human rights issues that require government action - and he singled out the need to pay more attention to the rights of the urban poor and land dispute victims.

Asean should do more to ... actually intervene and investigate.

"The most serious human rights issue in Cambodia now is land disputes," he said.
"Their rights are losing sway, their protests get less and less attention from the government, and many are arrested and detained [unfairly] in connection to land disputes," he said.

Nay Vanda said thatcompared  with other Asean countries, with the exception of Myanmar, Cambodia was lagging in terms of human rights.

"Asean should do more to ... actually intervene and investigate, not only say it will protect and promote," he said.

Surin Pitsuwan also discussed the bloc's response to the economic crisis, saying the body must put up a "united and brave front" in the face of a mounting global economic turmoil and resist sliding into protectionism.

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