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Kasit defends commission against alleged lack of teeth
Phuket - The planned Asean human-rights commission was challenged yesterday on its ability to protect the basic rights of people in the region as it has no power to take action against violations in member countries.
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who chaired the Asean Ministerial Meeting, defended the commission, saying that the terms of reference to set it up, as endorsed by the meeting, represented just a beginning.
"You can write a beautiful terms of reference and you are satisfied with it, but what about the implementation?" he said.
Asean has come a long way to have such a mechanism, he added.
The Asean human-rights commission was widely criticised for having no charter clause to punish rights offenders.
Kasit said Asean did not believe in punishment but was confident in its members to behave accordingly and honour the commitment for the people of Asean to lead a better life.
"Why should we keep on punishing ourselves, let's do it the civilised way to work together in a positive manner," he told a press conference.
"Please do not have a concept of continual crime and punishment. We will not commit any crime, so there should not be punishment but only a lot of achievement."
However, not only outsiders but also officials at the Asean meeting expressed their disappointment for the human-rights commission since it has little rights protection.
Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said Indonesia wanted to see the commission provide more protection for human rights.
Indonesia proposed the inclusion of a clear political message on rights protection in the political declaration to be issued by Asean leaders at their next summit in October, he said.
A journalist from Indonesia put Thailand's lese-majeste law into the context of Asean human rights by asking Kasit what the commission would do about the criticism of the Thai monarchy.
Kasit said Thailand has a constitutional-monarchy system that keeps the monarchy and especially the personality of His Majesty the King above politics.
"Don't mix it up, there are certain quarters in society that would like to bring the institution of the monarchy down into the political fight inside Thailand," he said.
"The royal institution and HM the King have no protection when they're being attacked. We have to have a law to protect the institution. The lese-majeste law is simply there to protect the institution of monarchy because they cannot protect themselves. The King cannot go to court," he said.
"What we have in Thailand is similar to what a lot of countries have with the institution of monarchy," he added.
Beside the Asean human-rights commission, the Asean meeting in Phuket discussed a range of issues, including the political situation in Burma.
The grouping in a joint communiqu้ issued after the meeting said it encouraged the junta in Rangoon to hold a free, fair and inclusive election next year.
It also called again on Burma to immediately free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, paving the way for genuine reconciliation and meaningful dialogue.
However, Burma expressed its view that pressure from the outside and sanctions were hampering the country's democratisation and development effort.
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