Thursday, December 17, 2009

The ASEAN Charter: Much Achieved, Much More Needs to Be Done

ASEAN Secretariat, 16 December 2009


ASEAN has achieved much in the one year since the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter, but much more needs to be done in the coming years before the region fulfils the dream of the ASEAN Leaders of an integrated ASEAN Community by 2015.


This was the sentiments that was expressed by three panellists at the 2nd ASEAN Secretariat Policy Forum – “The ASEAN Charter: One Year On”, held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on 16 December 2009. The panel consisted of Tun Musa Hitam, Chairman of the Eminent Persons Group on the Charter, and Ambassador Rosario G. Manalo and Ambassador Tommy Koh, Chairpersons of the High Level Task Force on the Drafting of the Charter. All of them shared their thoughts with some 300 guests on not only their experiences on working on the Charter process but also how much ASEAN had achieved in the past year since the ASEAN Charter came into force on 15 December 2008.


The panellists generally shared the view that the Charter has benefited ASEAN. “I would argue that the Charter is substantively a new document and has already had an impact on ASEAN, said Ambassador Tommy Koh, in refuting critics who had described the ASEAN Charter as a paper tiger. Ambassador Manalo was also positive on the impact of the Charter to date. “The Charter is not perfect in current form and substance, but it brings ASEAN to a new level,” she said.


Both Ambassadors Tommy Koh and Manalo also lauded the many accomplishments since the entry into force of the Charter, one of which was the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). The human rights body, which was called for in Article 14 of the ASEAN Charter, was launched by the ASEAN Leaders at the 15th ASEAN Summit in Thailand in October 2009. Describing it as a “process of evolution”, they said that the AICHR would have to evolve at a pace comfortable to all the members of the ASEAN family, and it would begin with education and the promotion of human rights and gradually take up the more challenging task of protection.


Several other achievements in the wake of the ASEAN Charter, such as the establishment of the Jakarta-based Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) to ASEAN, which will coordinate a broad range of ASEAN issues, and the greater involvement of parliamentarians, the business community, civil society organisations and youths in making ASEAN a people-oriented organisation were praised.


However, the panellists also urged that ASEAN do a lot more on social issues. Describing education as an equalising force and that ASEAN should support the learning of ASEAN languages and student exchanges, Ambassador Manalo questioned, “How successful has ASEAN been in this area?” The issue of education was also on the mind of Tun Musa, who voiced concern on the potential situation of a large number of young people in the region who are educated but unemployed. “ASEAN would need to prioritise human resource needs in the region and organise the content of our teaching,” he said.


Other social issues such as health, the environment, disaster management and labour mobility within ASEAN, were also highlighted as important areas for ASEAN to focus on. “We have to do the things that we declare we would do and to fill the stomach of the people of ASEAN in order to enjoy the good life,” Tun Musa stressed.


Looking back, Ambassador Tommy Koh noted that it would be fair to say that the Charter had got off to a good start. Is the Charter a paper tiger? “I think it would be more accurate to say that the one-year-old tiger cub is well, thriving and full of promise,” he concluded.

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